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Should Businesses Just Let Their Employees Be on Social Media?

Busy being lazyPick a subject, any subject, any controversial subject. Once you’ve got past religion, politics, and gay marriage you might find your way to social media at the workplace. Ok, so it’s not the most controversial subject in the world, but it causes heated debate in some circles.

That’s because no one really knows what to do with social media at work. Should employees be allowed free access to Facebook, Twitter and the like? Should social media sites be completely banned? Should there be limited access? It’s not easy to know which is right, especially when different studies (and a lot of studies have focused on this thorny issue) yield different results.

For example

LearnStuff recently published an infographic that looked at how social media affects productivity, as well as how much it costs the US economy per year. The results aren’t pretty. The most salient points include:

  • One out of 10 employees spends more time on the internet than they do working; the most visited sites being Facebook, LinkedIn, and CNN.
  • Employees are interrupted by social media on average every 10.5 minutes. It takes 23 minutes for them to concentrate fully on their task. By which time they will have been interrupted at least two more times. (Mind you, the 23 minutes thing is a debatable topic all on its own.)
  • Social media costs the US economy $650 billion per year in lost work hours.
  •  The average college student spends three hours per day on social media and two hours per day studying. They’re getting into bad habits early, aren’t they? This also, obviously, affects their results, and poor results don’t bode well for a well-equipped workforce or a thriving economy.

Evidence to the contrary

Researchers at Warwick Business School, in the UK, have found that employees who use Twitter, Facebook, and Skype are very productive indeed. This is because employees don’t spend all their time on social networks fooling around. They are also replying to customer queries and networking so that they can generate more leads.

Professor Joe Nandhakumar, one of the lead researchers, calls it the theory of virtual co-presence, which allows employees to productively collaborate with colleagues, clients and partners over long distances. This saves time on face-to-face meetings and eliminates much of the confusion that results from minor (and major) misunderstandings.

Essentially, the team found that social media is revolutionising the way in which business is conducted, rather than crippling it.


Another study, this time conducted by Evolv, found that employees on a variety of social networks employees are more productive than those who aren’t. Evolve wasn’t studying any old companies, but rather Fortune 500 companies. It seems that the use of five or more social networks allows employees to close more deals and provide better customer service. The social media networks of choice being Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest (interestingly), and LinkedIn.

So, what are employers to do? It’s fair to assume that not all employees are using social media to be constructive. There are undoubtedly some who would far rather chat with their boyfriends on Skype or stalk their high school sweethearts on Facebook. But there are also those who use social media in their employers’ best interests. Employers need to decide if the productivity benefits outweigh the losses. And they may want to reassess their staff with a view to cutting the slackers and hiring more social media savvy – social media productive – employees.


Image credit: id-iom, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr


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