More and more, I've seen the value of using social media in creating product awareness, promoting community spirit toward a particular company or product, and disseminating knowledge in a new format. But at what point do these social media sites begin to erode your users' time and numb their productivity and creativity as they click, click, click from one social media site to the next to keep up with the latest post, tweet, or text (or snowball, hug, or pie, as is popular on Facebook)?
Before you go on a social media witch hunt, you may be surprised to know some companies encourage the use of social media both internally and externally. We live in a new age of "hypersocializing" employees with tremendous multitasking powers and the ability to sum up in 140 characters (the Twitter limit -- and no double tweets for one thought; that's cheating) what workers from the previous generation take an hourlong roundtable meeting to discuss.
[ For more on social networking, see "Making a business case for social media." Also on InfoWorld, an Advice Line reader asks: "When starting a business, are LinkedIn and Facebook enough?" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]
The tangible value of social media use at work
Perhaps you've seen the value in giving your users an outlet for these newer social interaction tools and maybe even encouraged their use in-house. For example, Microsoft SharePoint servers have the ability (which can be turned off or on by the administrator) to provide blog sites for each user in a sort of MySpace fashion. The benefit is that it promotes a community spirit and unity among users, even a means of sharing tips and tricks with others, much like an internal wiki site or forum might. Even though users could spend a good deal of time working with the SharePoint site, it may be considered part of the normal function of your company. You might also have an Office Communication Server to allow in-house texting and presence awareness among your employees.
If you allow public social media tools, there's Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and so forth. Twitter is yet another tool that companies (especially small businesses that are seeking a following and name recognition) are using to boost awareness and promote a good spirit, usually by giving free information and other items related to the company to its "followers." Every so often, the company will send a sales- or marketing-oriented message as well. It's ingenious to develop a fan base this way and use it to do what e-mail blasts once accomplished, especially since such e-mails often end up in the spam folder these days.
Now, you might be thinking, "Wait a minute! How can YouTube or fantasy football ever be considered a positive thing for my users?" That depends on whom you ask. If you ask my father, there would be no room for discussion. I recall working as a teenager with my dad (a meat manager for a supermarket) in a freezing room all day long. At times, my young teenage mind wanted to share feelings or tell him a story, so I'd stop working to tell him. He would say, "If you can't talk and work at the same time then tell me this story at 5 p.m."