People who use social networks are set for a major disagreement with their bosses at work. Research published by eMarketer shows that most people reckon their employers should keep their hands off social networking activities. It’s obvious that people are making a mental distinction between work and social networking – even if they use social networks for business.
The study reveals that social networking is perceived as just that – social. No surprise there. However, bosses tend to perceive users of social networks as an extension of marketing and brand establishment. According to a study by Deloitte around one-third of businesses now use social networking as part of their business strategy. Most businesses, of course, do not use social networks, but those which do appear to do so extensively – from Facebook pages to YouTube videos and Twitter activities.
It seems they are doing so for branding and marketing purposes – fantastic. But the people doing it for the company don’t have the same view. More than half of them reckon that their social networking activities are “none of the company’s business” – even though they admit they are using social networks for business purposes. And therein lies a problem for many companies. The boss and the staff have completely different perspectives on social networking and its place in business.
In the past, many companies had branding and marketing conducted by their staff in social situations. People spoke about their work down the pub, they discussed new projects at dinner parties and they promoted their products at the village fete. Everyone who works for a company is part of the firm’s brand. What these individuals say and do outside the office helps everyone else build up a picture of the company they work for. Friends, neighbours and drinking buddies all get a view about the firm from each employee.
So, people who use social networks don’t perceive any difference. To them, Facebook is still psychologically the same as a chat down the pub. And bosses have never interfered in that, so why should they get involved in social networking discussions?
The problem for companies is that the pub chat and the dinner party banter would only involve a handful of people. Now, online social networking means that millions could be party to the conversation. And that could seriously impact upon brand and corporate reputation, whereas the indiscretion at the village fete would not be a real problem.
There is, though, a way out of this disparity. And the answer is revealed in the Deloitte research itself. Most businesses have no social networking policy. There are no guidelines on what is allowed or how to conduct social network activities. Furthermore, significant numbers of businesses admitted to not even understanding social networks.
Companies need to do two things: firstly, get a real understanding of how social networks actually work; secondly, they need a written policy on using social networks within their business. Without this understanding and a resulting good policy, employees will continue to use social networks in the way they are doing at the moment – chatting down the pub. Until someone tells them differently, they’ll carry on doing this. And that means corporate reputations will be shredded unless senior executives do something about it now.
But don’t hold your breath; according to the Deloitte study, most bosses believe they have a “right” to know what their employees do online. Until this kind of controlling attitude of paternalistic bosses disappears you can expect the social networking divide to continue for quite a long time ahead.