Nine ways to set the agenda and leverage
social media in the workplace
todd wheatland and david fenech
% who think it’s acceptable to use social media to
communicate with friends/colleagues about work
% who say social media has affected
their productivity at work
% who use social media in their job searching
more than newspapers or online job boards
% who communicate by
smart phone, worldwide
% who worry that use of social media at work,
for personal reasons, will lead to problems
% of companies who use social media
to recruit, depending on the region
We surveyed 168,000 people in in 30 countries about their use of social media in the workplace.
THE SOCIAL BAROMETER
WHEN IT COMES TO SOCIAL MEDIA,
THINK DIRECTION, NOT CONTROL
3 | working socially
Two worlds have collided: the personal and
the professional. The widespread use of
social media by the general public is on a
permanent trajectory, and it has streamed
into the professional workplace. Use of
social media across an individual’s personal
networks is now competing with formal,
business-oriented social communications
on company-branded properties. Not
only is there concern for the proper use of
employees’ time while at work, but also for
their possible conflicting and competing
messaging within the same channels.
Simply put, within the social space, informal
conversations are bumping into formal ones.
The emerging generation of workers,
Generation Y (born between 1982 and 1995),
has grown up with browsers and portable
technology accessible day and night. From
internet forums and blogs to social networks of
every stripe, the latest wave of workers sees no
need to leave tools or communication habits
at home. Not surprisingly, the established
cadre of workers, Generation X (born between
1964 and 1981) and the Baby Boomers (born
between 1946 and 1963), are slower to accept
the personal use of social media at work.
That said, this more mature demographic is
now showing the most rapid growth rate.
Many companies began pushing their messages
to customers through social mechanisms
around 2005. Now they realize that social
communication is a way of life in charting
employee-related strategies and protocols.
They have also come to recognize that
broadcast communication can be supported by
or even replaced with social tools, internally or
externally. Even advertising has become a two-
way street, if not a multi-lane, social highway.
After we asked the opinions of nearly 170,000
survey participants in 30 countries, it’s clear
that the presence of social media is
something to manage or direct, not to fear.
Social media started as a primary impetus
behind describing and sharing, online, the
details of daily life. Now social media is
sparking new ways of thinking about work,
doing work, and taking care of customers. For
corporate organizations, the potential of social
media could be viewed as one of the most
useful phenomenon of online innovations.
This brings us to the two obvious risks
in the social–professional mix: worker
distraction and corporate over-reaction.
Users of social media see it as a personal tool
for sharing and communicating. If you try to
remove these tools, many feel their rights
are being infringed upon. Nearly a third of
survey participants believe it’s acceptable
to use social media for personal reasons at
work. On the geographical dimension,
48 percent of Asia-Pacific participants find
it acceptable to do personal socializing
via technology during working hours. Yet
despite the social media rights viewpoint,
47 percent of all participants, across
generations and geography, worry
that the social–professional boundary
WHEN IT COMES TO SOCIAL MEDIA,
THINK DIRECTION, NOT CONTROL continued
4 | working socially
crossing might cause problems at work.
And it goes both ways; 56 percent of all
participants believe that access to their
social pages is not their employers’ right.
Many companies continue to view social
media as something they must regulate. A
more pragmatic viewpoint suggests another
path: the use of social media in the workplace
is best considered in terms of responsibility
– neither a right nor a cause for restriction.
Corporate leaders have three options. They
can let the collision follow an unguided course.
They can look at it as a problem and implement
aggressive blockades to tackle it. Or there’s
the third alternative, our preference. Says
Kelly CEO Carl Camden, “By establishing basic
guard-rails around social media, companies
can dramatically accelerate the speed at which
their teams can safely operate … helping them
respond to the market faster than ever before.”
Embracing the concept of a social business
and constructing it requires strategic
attention. The process is a matter of
degree – the difference between setting
direction and resorting to command and
control, the process of converging personal
rights and management responsibility.
Smart companies are putting social media to
use, not fighting it – because it’s a powerful
way to connect with people inside the company
and to connect with external stakeholders.
Besides, even if you prevent social media use
on company equipment, your employees will
connect through their own tools like personal
smartphones. However, to counter social
media’s strong power to distract, companies
must set the tone by proactively developing
and implementing social policies, strategies
and their supporting tactics. Also, to stand
any chance of success, these initiatives must
directly relate to the organization’s business
strategies and must be fully supported and
funded by the executive leadership team.
It would be easy to conclude that using social
media at work is more popular with younger
workers or workers in emerging economies
because they “get” smart technology or
because mobile tools are the only resources
they have for communication. But every year,
the use of smart technology and visits to social
media sites are growing exponentially among
Baby Boomers. So why do we have such a big
divide when it comes to opinions about using
social media at work?
The digital divide in the workplace pertains not
only to the adoption of social media and smart
technology but also to the norms around what
people consider appropriate working behavior.
This is an experience gap, and employers can
close it by setting priorities and establishing
processes that clarify what is the appropriate
5 | working socially
#1 / find common ground
use of social media in their individual work
By fostering work experiences – on projects
and in targeted customer relationships – that
incorporate a role for social media and establish
the parameters, companies can set a foundation
for the wise, productive use of social media on
terms that satisfy management and workers of
all backgrounds. As workers witness the impact
of their influence on the company’s use of
social media, and as they see in front of them
concrete examples of professionalism, their
social energy will shift to more professional
pursuits while they’re at work. A balance can
be found with the younger worker sharing
their knowledge of social media and the more
mature worker sharing their knowledge of
professional and appropriate communication.
Combining both can lead to a powerful
advantage for an organization. It’s wise to avoid
the classic mistake of employing younger, green
employees to manage corporate communities
without the overseeing eye of an employee
wise in the art of professional communication.
To begin putting social media use in the context
of workplace experience, companies can take
1 Manage the initial disruption. Establish
a social media-use policy to protect both
employees and the corporate brand from
issues ranging from simple embarrassment to
disruptive legal actions.
2 Involve employees of all experience
levels in a review of company ethics
and performance standards. Guide
employees in exploring how social media
can serve existing standards, rather then
3 Directly align the social strategy with
business objectives. This provides for a
stronger, longer-term strategy and helps
prevent organizations from becoming too
socially tactical and prevents the urge to
chase every new social item on the horizon.
4 Participate on social networks with a
branded presence and integrate social
networks into branded web sites. These
efforts should directly support the corporate
objectives (i.e. serve the company’s sales,
marketing, customer service, recruiting and
5 Empower employees to share relevant
company content within their networks.
Define a simple process that allows people
6 | working socially
Indicating social media progress, only
12 percent of survey participants said
their companies still ban the use of social
When a company stops looking at the
social–professional collision as war, it signals
its acknowledgement of the fact that social
media is not only here to stay but can be a
strong asset. With the elimination of the
war context, changing internal nomenclature
from “arsenal” to “toolkit”, companies can
explore the uses of social media in real time,
demonstrating that while they may still be
learning how to fully leverage social tools,
#2 / Build a toolkit
they’re not just waiting it out or hoping it
Successful companies make the social
media policy the heart of the toolkit,
establishing general use guidelines and
standards. The best policies link directly to
business strategy and organization culture,
emphasizing what employees can do, not
just what they cannot. Strong policies
are inclusive and leverage employees as
advocates, thereby allowing the company
to scale social tactics across their employees’
In these early years of social media
policy-setting, 10 best practices
1 Address the real-time nature of
2 Consider the abundance of channels
3 Articulate how specific social media
channels support the company’s business
and strengthen customer and community
4 Clarify the parameters for using company
equipment and social media accounts (while
being aware of and not violating freedom of
speech and labor laws)
5 Explain good sense and sharing examples
of industry and corporate best practices
6 State both the risk and rewards of specific
7 Update the policy regularly and
communicate those updates
8 Clarify that employees have a stake in the
success of the policy by setting guidelines
for how employees can listen and respond
to company activity on social networks
9 Give examples of positive and negative use
of social media
Be prepared for what will go publically
wrong. Think social triage.
7 | working socially
#3 / Set boundaries
Boundaries between companies, their
employees, suppliers and customers will
continue to blur. At the same time, hierarchies
are flattening, so employees are taking a
bigger role in organizing themselves into cross-
In managing these shifts, companies are
equipping employees to access corporate
knowledge and experience in a self-directed
manner. However, companies should expect
employees to turn to each other informally
and to external online sources both to educate
themselves and to share their opinions. All
generations value having unencumbered access
to information, colleagues and friends.
With nearly half of all survey participants
expressing concern about mixing personal
and professional social media contacts and
channels, it’s clear that the desire for boundaries
is not the issue; it’s how to set them.
There’s nothing better for dealing with shifting
boundaries than to create new ones. But in
the socially connected workplace, the
boundaries must be fluid and used to empower
employees, not limit them. Begin by setting
expectations and then get down to specifics.
Here are a few examples.
1 With rights come responsibilities. If you
want this, then you are responsible for that.
2 When you share anything that falls outside
of the defined scope of appropriate
information sharing (as explained in the
social media policy), you can expect a
reaction that may include employment
3 Company equipment is for company
activity and therefore can be monitored.
Assume that’s the case.
4 Personality is fine; getting personal is not.
5 Here is what we – managers and
employees – consider “too much
information”. (Provide pertinent and
In the socially connected
workplace, the boundaries
must be fluid and used
to empower employees,
not limit them
8 | working socially
#4 / capitalize on cultural differences
Geographic location clearly bears on the way
company cultures absorb social media activity.
In the Asia Pacific, workers are three times more
likely than in the Americas to approve of the
personal use of social media at work – yet they
don’t want or expect surveillance. Workers in
other parts of the world may use social media
at work, and they would be surprised if their
companies didn’t take a peek.
Companies that hire only in their resident
countries may believe they are immune
from the impact of findings like these, but
the fact is, large migrant populations are
entering workforces far from their native lands
– bringing cultural habits, including their use
and perceptions of social media, with them.
Apart from studying and benchmarking cultural
practices, companies can do three things to
capitalize on cultural differences.
1 Use the fact that many non-native
workers are comfortable accessing and
sharing information, so they can provide
rich experiential data about social media
channels and habits.
2 Visa requirements set high standards for
skill, experience and even education levels.
Combined with the fact that these workers
are digital natives, recognize that they could
share valuable best practices for managing
time and relationships via digital means.
3 The non-native worker’s state of
connectedness means they’re
connected to their native markets. This
knowledge and these relationships have
inherent value to employers seeking to
understand multicultural markets – as well
as expanding globally.
In the Asia Pacific,
workers are three times
more likely than in the
Americas to approve
personal use of social
media at work—yet
they don’t want or
9 | working socially
#5 / Invigorate your training
Companies continue to make significant
investments in professional development and
training. For many of these organizations,
it is the equivalent of military boot camp,
acculturating employees into “the company
way” – from product development to customer
As a burgeoning element of corporate culture
now worthy of policy and strategic attention,
social media has a place in the corporate
training manual too – not only as a subject,
but as a teaching channel. Companies need to
find the middle ground between a boot camp
mentality and a college campus style of training.
Learning via social media – social learning –
should never replace the practice of workers
learning from each other. It should, in fact,
enhance it. For at least the next two decades,
social learning methods will level the playing
field between workers of different experience
levels. Experienced workers may share
company, customer and industry knowledge
with new staff, and new staff will demonstrate
the real-time capacity of using social media to
exchange ideas, communicate with customers
and capture industry practices from anywhere
in the world.
By eliminating physical and temporal
constraints, learning via social media can help
companies concentrate worker learning on
expertise and data, and possibly move away
from legacy modes of learning based on
top-down decision-making. The result will be
highly skilled workers with access to each other,
producing innovative solutions that increase the
company’s value to all its stakeholders.
A quality training course would include the
following basic elements:
1 Stay current – with constant changes in
social media a corporation’s training will
quickly become dated.
2 Use examples – the use of overarching
examples can provide guidance with
3 Leverage what’s already available – many
social networks provide in-depth help.
Don’t reinvent the wheel.
4 Global corporations need training that
includes the diverse social channels they’ll
use around the world.
Learning via social media
should never replace the
practice of workers learning
from each other. It should,
in fact, enhance it
10 | working socially
#6 / dig a productivity channel
In a perfect world, the corporate use of social
media fuels effective, timesaving interaction not
just between workers but between the company
and its suppliers, customers and influencers.
Forty-seven percent of the survey participants
worry that their use of social media at work,
for personal reasons, will lead to problems.
Forty-three percent report that social media has
already negatively affected their productivity.
Getting workers to manage their personal time
with social media to minimize distraction at
work requires giving them a reason to use social
media for productivity. This is the bridge to
the state of transformation that will benefit the
company as well the workers.
1 Identify workers at every level – executives,
managers, staff – who are using social media
correctly. Give them a company platform that
enables them to set an example.
2 Ask these workers to share their tips for
using social media at work, including how to
manage their personal time.
3 Look for ways to improve work processes
through social media, especially as they
relate to internal knowledge sharing, sales
and customer relations.
4 Use analytics to capture how social media
is helping the company improve. Share the
5 Reinforce the positive intersection of
personal and professional use of social
media. They are not diametrically opposed;
they just need to be intelligently and
Getting workers to manage
their personal time with
social media to minimize
distraction requires giving
them a reason to use social
media for productivity
11 | working socially
#7 / recast employees as messengers
People have always discussed their work
with the expectation that the conversation’s
reach would be limited to the recipient or the
recipient’s network if they chose to repeat the
discussion. However, social media makes it very
easy now for one message, however private
or momentary, to be repeated on a very large
scale. Add to this the indexing and search
ability of the message and it takes on an entire
life of its own.
Nearly a quarter of survey participants report
that they think it is acceptable to use social
media to communicate with friends and
colleagues about work. The fact is, employees
are now company messengers. And even for
the employees who confine their personal use
of social media to non-work hours, if they’re
talking about work, they are, to some extent,
representing the company. Employees are no
longer just assets, they comprise a primary
conduit to the marketplace.
It’s time to equip employees for the brand
1 Think about the employee persona that
depicts the company’s culture, product and
services authentically, compelling interest
and loyalty from customers and other
employees. Give this persona a voice by
giving employees content they can use in
describing the company and their roles in it.
2 Consider ways to enable employees to
vent with each other within the company’s
own walls so that they don’t feel the need to
do it via public channels.
3 Create new mechanisms for employees to
create and share company content. It will
differentiate you in the marketplace
4 Connect employees to current company
thought leaders, and put their own thought
leadership in the spotlight.
5 Back up the company’s own socially-
based interaction with employees with
offline activities that are already a part of the
6 Remind workers that every encounter is
an opportunity to connect – make it a
7 Above all, remind employees to listen first
and then talk only when they have engaging
and relevant content to share. Nobody
likes a person who constantly talks about
themselves without regard to the ongoing
conversation; the same holds true on
Employees are no longer
just assets, they comprise
a primary conduit to
12 | working socially
#8 / expand your tribe
It’s no surprise that within business strategy
discussions there is some contradictory dialogue
about the use of social media. While people
are moving increasingly online to look for work,
they don’t like the idea of potential or current
employers studying their social media moves.
Only around one third of survey participants
think a current employer should look at an
employee’s social network pages – or that a
prospective employer should use them to make
a hiring decision. Yet 30 percent of participants
also state they use social media in their job
searching, more than newspapers or even
online job boards.
Somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of
companies use social media to recruit workers.
A company’s social media presence can in fact
be a strong point of differentiation from its
Various forms of social media can be used
to showcase the company, search for and
engage with candidates. For forward-looking
companies, these efforts can also be tied to
onboarding and training employees – and
connecting them to one another to extend the
corporate culture to decentralized employees.
Various forms of social
media can be used to
showcase the company,
search for and engage with
candidates and screen them
13 | working socially
#9 / Feed your customers
Every company wants to be close to its
customers. Until social media knocked on
the enterprise door, companies studied their
customers in the context of the products and
services they were selling. When conducting
research and tests, companies more often than
not put potential and established products in
front of customers to see what they thought.
Now, personal technology has put customers
at least at pace with product and service
innovation, if not ahead of it. So companies
have begun to listen to customers as a way not
just to get close to them, but to help define
products and services – social innovation.
Workers are well aware of the importance
of having a home on the social networks,
and not just for listening to customers but for
taking care of them, too. Workers see their
success tied to that of their companies. They
understand that customers do business online,
so they expect to see companies living there,
beyond transactions alone.
How a social media presence aligns with
the company’s business strategies, cultural
values and customer priorities is important
to workers. More and more, workers see
their companies as communities populated
with suppliers, customers, shareholders and
Alignment with this community is often best
expressed in social media, and workers can
shepherd it along. If companies feed their
customers, they feed their employees, too.
1 Begin with the company’s value
proposition. Use social media to ask
customers, creatively, what they want, need
and expect and where the company adds
value to their lives – not just their wallets and
the specific problem a product or service
addresses. For example, if customers value
sustainable business practices, they will
want to know if the company employs them.
This may not be immediately traceable via
product information or pricing; social media
is an excellent way to share information
2 Ask good questions. Always express the
answers in the customer’s terms.
3 Use what employees know – from their
own experiences as customers – to create
hallmarks of the company’s brand.
Companies have begun
to listen to customers as a
way not just to get close to
them, but to help define
products and services