Social media at work – 4 years on!

By Elisabeth Goodman, 28th November 2017

Four years ago, in 2013, I wrote a blog on the ROI for social media for SMEs based on a seminar that I delivered for the Cambridge Network [Social Media – What’s the ROI? Cambridge Network Breakfast Meeting for SMEs].

I conducted a poll before the event, the results of which suggested 3 main benefits of using social media for SMEs:

  • Building ones reputation
  • Making connections
  • Developing knowledge

Three years before that, in 2010 I wrote about the wider relevance of social media to organisations, with a strong emphasis on facilitating knowledge sharing and creating a sense of community. (I referenced communities of practice, and communities of interest.)

This year’s November-December issue of Harvard Business Review carries an article by Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley.  They reference a McKinsey Global Institute study of 4,200 companies of which 72% reported using social media for employee communication.  They also carried out their own research across a range of sectors.  (See reference under the illustration below.)

What managers need to know about social media_HBR Nov-Dec 2017
Illustration from: What managers need to know about social media. Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley. Harvard Business Review November-December 2017, pp. 118-126

Social media tools cited include Yammer, Slack, Chatter, Microsoft Teams, JIRA..

The benefits of social media for organisations

Leonardi and Neeley’s research came up with some additional angles on the benefits of social media:

  • Greater collaboration and sharing of knowledge across silos in an organisation
  • The ability to make faster decisions, and the ability to develop more innovative ideas
  • Enabling employees to become more engaged in work and in the company

The results of their 6-month study with a large financial firm also indicated the value of social media in identifying and being able to get in touch with people with the necessary expertise to meet a business goal.

So, the value of social media still seems to be based around connections, reputation and knowledge, along with feeling part of a community.

It was interesting that the main reasons the authors found for organisations adopting social media were: “other companies are so we should” and “we want to attract young talent”.  Few used a solid business case as their rationale!

Traps and guidelines for social media in the workplace

Finding the right balance of informality / formality in using social media within organisations

Leonardi and Neeley’s research suggests that “millenials” find it harder to adopt social media within organisations than older people do, whereas the assumption is often the other way around.

The reason given for these different levels of comfort is that “millenials” use tools externally for personal reasons – and so can struggle to adopt the right level of informality for use of the tools internally.

However, it is often the informal conversations (around outside interests for example) that can help people to relate to each other – and so open the way to asking for help and sharing knowledge.

Leonardi and Neeley suggest that managers “spell out the rules of conduct”, encouraging and role modelling informal conversations and steering clear of any formal postings.  These rules of conduct would include protecting confidentiality and any regulatory or legally related information.

Clarifying and communicating the purpose of social media in the organisation

Because conversing through social media can be a somewhat gradual process, people might not always recognise that they are gaining new knowledge and learning through it.  The authors suggest that people can gain “meta knowledge” about the go-to people with expertise.

There is also a risk that the knowledge gained may be misleading.  Just because someone is sharing knowledge over social media does not mean that they are necessarily the go-to expert, or that their knowledge is comprehensive.

Leonardi and Neeley suggest that managers make the purpose of using the social media clear – which of the benefits would their organisation like to emphasise? The authors also suggest that people build their “ambient awareness” of how the social media are being used by their colleagues, so that they can draw more informed conclusions about the quality of the knowledge shared.

How do these findings relate to your experiences of using social media within organisations?

What are people’s level of comfort with social media?

RiverRhee’s training, workshops and coaching for managers and teams includes topics relating to knowledge sharing and collaboration.  Click here to find out more.

Is it helping to build engagement, collaboration and knowledge sharing?

Is it leading to better decision making and innovation?


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) 

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.




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