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 Social Media in the Organization: Embrace It. Don’t Block It!
by Ron Desi

A truism in social media is that networks are constantly evolving. But what I said about Facebook, YouTube and the like in the Daily Record last summer is sticking: While there may a worthy debate inside organizations about whether these sites should be accessible to employees, I say keep them open. There is good business going on in there.

Companies need to embrace social media—not fight it.

According to the article, Lockheed Martin created its own internal social network and just recently reopened access to Facebook. Some firms might feel the need to ban social media entirely. Watching YouTube, checking a friend’s status update on Facebook or tweeting about a trending topic is a waste of valuable work time, right? Perhaps, but managers need to look beyond the “loafing” aspect of social media and begin to embrace its business potential.

Organizations must be smart and forward thinking, and should view social media as a tool to gain a competitive advantage. Social media can provide a wealth of knowledge to employees tapped into the correct networks. Employers can benefit when employees keep up with blogs or are on Twitter reading tweets relevant to their job. It helps them enhance their knowledge base and it puts them in touch with others facing similar issues. For example, a software developer might need to troubleshoot a problem. He or she can tweet the issue to his or her followers and obtain technical assistance. This saves time and money. A sales representative can read blogs from a sales guru like Jeffrey Gitomer and gain really great insights. Try www.salescaffeine.com for an example. 

Teach employees how to harness its power

If used correctly, social media can be a great tool for employee productivity. The question is, how can companies focus employees’ efforts to use social media tools for business effectiveness? The answer is simple: teach them. The organization could hold seminars on how to leverage social media, and customize their training for various departments. Here are a few ideas:

  • Teach the sales department how to tap into sales networks to increase sales (LinkedIn and Spoke come to mind).
  • Teach accountants how to leverage social media to help them become better accountants. The Maryland Association of CPAs is on Twitter (@macpa). In my opinion, every accountant in Maryland should be following them via that tool.
  • Teach HR professionals how to leverage Facebook and LinkedIn. Those are great resources for up and coming professionals.
  • Show IT development staff which social media can help them resolve technical issues faster than random troubleshooting or calling the tech support line (which can be pricey these days).
  • Post training videos on YouTube.
  • Have the CEO or the boss blog like Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers and CEO social media “rock star.”

In his article, Social media gets the job done at work, Devin Dwyer interviewed a few IBM managers. IBM is embracing social media. According to the article, half of all U.S. companies ban “blogs and online communities.” This is an incredibly short-sighted decision, akin to locking out your own staff when it’s time to do training on a new phone system. Don’t you want all of your people to know how to talk with the outside world?

As one of the IBM managers said, “Do companies ban people from going to the water cooler to talk? Of course they don’t. But they choose to ban tools of social media, because they’re scared of them or because they don’t understand them.”

Sure, there will be employees who waste time, spending two hours looking at photos on Flickr or playing Mafia Wars on Facebook. However, it’s likely that these same employees would be wasting time doing something else if they did not have access to these sites. A significant majority of employees want to do a good job for their company, and they will use social media the same way they use other tools in the office. They will be productive, if expectations are set and they are taught how to use the tools. You have to admit a certain truth: If a salesperson can gain five additional sales a quarter using a social network, then it’s worth the time if he or she watches the latest viral video on YouTube or Vimeo.

Ron Desi is the director of the UB/Towson M.B.A. program.

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