What is the role of social media in business?
I'm often asked what the role of social media should be in business - the answer is absolutely none!
The problem rests in the terminology not the technology - the words "social" and "media" strike fear in to the heart of any employer who envisages the entire team socialising, chatting with friends and watching "cool" videos. Of course there are employees who have used trusted access to the internet to use their time inappropriately - just as there are employees in banks who help themselves to cash - in both cases this is caused by weak management / supervision not the the fact that the internet allows access to a world of info or that banks contain lots of cash (well they used to anway). In some cases company's "solve" the problem by imposing security policies which prevent access to social media tools and even external internet access as well. Wrong answer.
Let's start by just calling it "online networking" instead ..... remember that this is netWORKing, not aimless wandering around looking at stuff, so there is a business purpose other than entertainment or alleviating boredom.
The IT community has long known the value of forums and chat to enable developers to seek quick free answers to issues and problems - the first place a developer goes for help will be outside the company to a worldwide network of other developers who might know the answer. In return he will contribute his knowledge to others for free. So long as the giving and taking is in balance this works fine and is a lot faster and cheaper than hiring a consultant, going on another training course or trying to figure it out yourself from a book.
Similarly in Marketing there are many online networks now established - the emarketing group on LinkedIn has over 118,000 members - so if you have a problem in digital marketing there will be someone out there who knows the answer.
What about other functions? Well organisations are often structured in vertical silos and are very adapt at reinventing the wheel in each division / country. Allowing all staff to network and connect (maybe through a group in LinkedIn if you want to retain some control) would allow an easy exchange of ideas and solutions. Who wouldn't welcome fewer meetings, less travel and better ideas?
What's humbling about this is the realisation that neither your company, your team nor even you can have all the answers needed - but there is someone out there in your company or elsewhere in the world who does know the answer. Allowing a team to resolve their own problems and develop more robust solutions has to be worth the risk of granting people the freedom to "network online".
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