Social Media Isn't the Problem, It's Your Culture

Employee Engagement
Employee Engagement
As we enter the age of the consumer- and employee-built brand, senior leaders must create a culture that lets employees shine as the social creatures they are.

I'm beginning to wonder what the future of work really looks like. Seriously. Seemingly out of nowhere, there is an unstoppable force of social media streaming through the foundation of culture, politics, communications, education, and like it or not, the workplace. According to the latest data, Twitter's nearly 200 million users are collectively posting close to 110 million tweets per day. Smartphones and mobile devices serve to catapult their wonderful expressions of optimism, purpose, courage, and collaboration into the public domain. Add to all of this the fact that millions of Millenials are taking their first career steps beaming with a love of Facebook, Foursquare, #hashtags, causes galore, and social gaming. We are entering a new generation of wired, plugged-in, digital consuming creatures; one that is poised to take over the ranks of corporate America in less than a decade's time.

Let's take a lay of the land. Businesses of all sizes are in a remarkable period of transformation as legislative, societal, operational, and talent factors (remember the Millenials?) push management to accelerate their organization's efforts to becoming more socially responsible and sustainable entities. Competition from developing nations is increasing exponentially -- forcing faster cycles of innovation on all levels of business. Employees are expanding at the waistline, setting the stage for an alarming rise in heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. This list is by no means exhaustive, but does call for a few deep breaths, many more game changing ideas, collaboration, and passion for creating a better world. Social media is the answer -- just ask 80 million Egyptians.

Now is the time for every leader to pause and take the time to reflect on how best to leverage and integrate social media within the corporate culture. A report by Manpower employer services shows that a minority of organizations have a "formal policy regarding employee use of social networking sites while at work" -- only 29 percent of companies in the Americas, 25 percent in Asia Pacific, and 11 percent in EMEA. In parallel, more than half of 54 percent of CIOs from companies with 100 or more employees say that they completely block employees from accessing social media sites, as reported in a 2009 survey conducted by Robert Half Technology. And, it should come as absolutely no surprise that roughly half of the CFOs responded to a 2010 survey by the same organization saying that their "greatest concern" about employees' use of social media was "wasting time on such sites during business hours." While there is some truth in the fact that certain employees may waste time obsessively tracking the newsfeed in their Facebook account or Tweeting about how much they adore the latest Justin Beiber song, banning all access to social media for employees only serves to create a scapegoat that hides the shortcomings of corporate culture.

Zappo's CEO Tony Hsieh gets it. He is, by certain measures, the social media king in the corporate culture arena. Hsieh, who has been catapulted into business celebrity status after writing Delivering Happiness, has more than 1.7 million followers on Twitter (@zappos). When he tweets, he makes sure that they fall under one of four categories: inspire, connect, educate, or entertain. Hsieh also encourages employees to update their Twitter and Facebook feeds throughout the workday, something that might make other CEO's cringe. And yet, anybody who knows the Zappos culture understands that it's not just about the flexibility of being able to go on social media sites at work. This culture is made rich by everyone embracing Zappos' shared values of inspiration, empowerment, "a little weirdness," freedom of expression, family, and purpose. While the social media policy at Zappos didn't "make" the culture, it's undoubtedly a contributing factor to it -- one that treats people like the adults that they are.

Similarly, the iconic CEO of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, and his "let my people go surfing" philosophy continues to inspire its employees and the corporate culture of other companies. He was one of the first CEOs to truly capitalize on creating the ideal working environment by overtly linking life happiness with work productivity. It's about creating a workplace that nourishes peoples' hearts, minds and souls, not one that makes work feel so hopelessly like work that it drives people to look for ways to escape.

Senior leaders of companies need to have a balanced perspective, one that doesn't involve using a paper wall to stop a tsunami. Completely restricting access to social media sites in the hopes that disgruntled or disengaged employees will not find other ways to waste company time, deliver less than excellent work product, or even worse, make disparaging comments about the company anonymously on their free time is foolhardy. Remember, we are now entering the age of the consumer-built brand and the employee-built brand. All the more reason to create a workplace that lets people shine rather than squelching their human desire to be social creatures.

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About the Author: Judah Schiller is CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S