Though 70% of US marketing, management and HR executives say they plan to increase social-media use at their companies, more than 80% say they are concerned about the risks, and many do not have policies or training in place to avert reputation mishaps or lost productivity, according to (pdf) a study by Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law.
The national survey, which assessed social media workplace trends and adoption of policies governing social media, found that fewer than one in three respondents say their organization has a policy in place to govern social media use and only 10% of companies have conducted employee training on it.
It also found that 40% of companies attempt to block their employees from accessing social media while at work. This is slightly lower than the 50% of employees blocked from Facebook at work in a 2007 study by Sophos.
At the same time, 26% of executives say their companies use social media to further corporate objectives, and just more than one-third say they plan to increase the use of these new opportunities.
The most popular social networking vehicles being used include Facebook (80%), Twitter (66%), YouTube (55%), LinkedIn (49%) and blogs (43%), Russell Herder said.
The biggest concerns about social media use are in the areas of lost productivity and organizational vulnerability, the study found. More than half (51%) of executives say they fear social media could be detrimental to employee productivity, while 49% say social media could damage company reputation.
Despite these apprehensions, most respondents view social networking as key to improving their business. The survey found that more than eight in 10 executives think social media can enhance relationships with customers/clients (81%) and build brand reputation (81%). Similarly, nearly 70% think such networking can be valuable in recruitment (69%), as a customer service tool (64%) and used to enhance employee morale (46%).
Senior Management’s SocNet Experience
The study also asked exectives about their personal use of social media, as well as the extent of their company’s involvement. It found that much of senior management’s direct experience with social media appears to be reactive vs. proactive.
The majority (74%) of executives said that they, personally, visit social media sites at least weekly to read what customers may be saying about their company (52%), and routinely monitor competitors’ use of social networking (47%). One in three search social media sites to see what their employees are sharing (36%); or check the background of a prospective employee (25%):
However, despite the fact that social media communication is growing, only 13% have included social media in their organizations’ crisis communications plans and only one in 10 executives say they have staff who spend more than 50% of their time on such efforts. This, Russell Herder said, is surprising, given that more than half of the organizations participating in the research employ more than 1,000 people.
Companies Must Balance Risks and Benefits
The study results suggest that companies should be more methodically approaching social media, better educating themselves on risks and benefits, and putting into place plans and policies produce benefits while also minimizing risk.
“Ignoring the need for responsible guidelines can leave an organization open to unnecessary risk and can impede efforts to use social media proactively and competitively in the marketplace,” said Carol Russell, CEO of Russell Herder. “Rather than bypass the social media opportunity, organizations should embrace it while taking steps to educate their team about internal guidelines and best practices,”
According to Ethos President David Baer, good social media policies are organization-specific, but must take into consideration the form, substance, philosophy and culture of the organization. Good policies should include “the need to respect confidential and proprietary information; as well as the sensitivity of potential conflicts of interest,” he added.
A recent study by Nucleus Research found that social networking costs employers 1.5% in lost productivity.
About the study: The July 2009 study was conducted among marketing, management and HR executives at companies in the US.