Hourly workers on five or more social networks sstay longer and sell more in less time

hourly-productive

Add this to the mountain of evidence that contradicts the conventional wisdom that employees’ use of social media is a drain on productivity: Among hourly workers, those that use five or more social networks are more productive and better at handling customer transactions.

These results come from a study from Evolv, which “harnesses the power of big data predictive analytics and machine learning to uncover the inefficiencies that undermine the performance of global workforces.”

According to the report, employees that are engaged in five or more social networks have a 1.57% higher sales conversion than their peers, and handle customer transactions in 2.76% less time.

“The fact that they’re better at handling customer interactions may stem from the fact that they’re inherently more social people,” the report says.

The study also suggests that hourly workers using social networks will stay longer with the company — 92 days compared to 83 for those who don’t use social networks at all. Interestingly, workers using between one and four social networks stay 94 days, two days longer than the five-or-more crowd.

I’d love to point you to a copy of the report, but it’s not on the Evolv website. I first read it in an April 2 Mashable piece by Chris Taylor. There was no link to the report, though, so I spent a fair amount of time on the Evolv website, where a number of studies and reports are available, but none containing this data. I got in touch with the company directly, and the second representative I corresponded with sent me a one-page PDF with the data.

Whatever. The data reinforces a multitude of studies that offer other reasons access to social media drives rather than dampens productivity, like this one from McKinsey & Co., which sees a 20-25% productivity boost when employees use social media, and the unlocking of $1.3 trillion in annual value.

Or this one from Deloitte that argues social media is better than any other means for workers to address “exceptions” in their work.

Taking a different approach is this one, from the University of Melbourne, which demonstrated results similar to studies conducted by MindLab and Singapore National University.

And these are just a few of the studies not funded by companies that sell services to block or monitor employees that show the value of employees engaging in social media.

Training employees on social media improves engagement, boosts company reputation

Companies accrue far greater advantages from providing their employees with social media training and letting them engage with their communities than they do from blocking access. I’ve written here before about the results of The Altimeter Group’s study that found the organizations that avoided crises or kept their impact to a minimum were the few deemed “advanced,” the ones that conducted such training and didn’t block access.

I’ve talked over the last several years about several ways open employee access serves the organization’s interests, from recruiting and access to subject matter experts to idea-testing and brand evangelism. After this morning, I’m adding a couple more to the list.

I have Sara Folkerts to thank. Sara is a social media manager for Sprint at the mobile provider’s Kansas City headquarters. Sara’s role includes a focus on getting employees engaged in social channels. She was the guest speaker at a meeting of the technology special interest group of the Kansas City IABC chapter. I’m not a member of the IABC chapter, but non-members were invited to join via a Google Hangout or a teleconference. There was even one participant from Costa Rica! The Hangout featured a camera trained on the conference table, shown below:

Sara’s presentation focused on the Sprint Ninja program, which so far has attracted some 2,000 employees to undergo training to prepare them to engage in their communities on company-related topics, from helping solve customer problems to evangelizing new phones. She pointed two two important outcomes from the effort. First, internal surveys have determined that employees who participate in the program are more engaged.

Engagement is the measure of an employee’s desire to exert discretionary effort on the company’s behalf. Engaged employees are also more inclined to recommend the company to others, whether it’s recommending its products or its desirability as an employer. Because growth in market share has been linked to levels of engagement, there’s hardly a CEO on earth who isn’t look to increase the size of his organization’s highly engaged population.

Second, Sarah said research Sprint contracted from the Reputation Institute has shown that the company’s reputation has improved as a result of its trained employees speaking directly with customers via social channels. Since reputation can also be linked to a company’s valuation, a strong reputation is a valuable asset. (The book Reputation by Charles Fonbrum, founder and chairman of the Institute, had a profound impact on my thinking about PR and communications.

Interestingly, the Reputation Institute also suggested the company needed at least 8,500 employees to be engaged online for Sprint to achieve the full potential of employees engaged online with the public. The company’s working on hitting that target.

Here’s one more nugget out of many I took away from Sara’s session: Among the topics Sprint’s employee Ninjas say they’re most interested in is information about the company’s social media activities. That got me thinking: How many organizations report as part of their routine internal communication efforts on what the company is doing in the social space? Among the companies I’ve worked with, I’ve seen very little attention paid to sharing social media plans and activities. Internal communicators should make it a habit to keep employees up to date on how the company is engaging with its customers, both tactically (such as reporting on the launch of a social campaign) and strategically (like the steps the company is taking to become a more social business).

In any case, nurturing your internal advocates makes a whole lot more sense than restricting employee access to social media. Sprint is among the companies blazing the trail toward effective, informed employee social interaction.

(She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to try to convince Sara to be a guest on an FIR interview.)

Rejoice! Employee use of social networks has tripled!

Palo Alto Networks is out with its annual numbers on employee work time spent on social networks. The company’s conclusions are based on analyzing raw data from 1,600-plus companies for a seven-month period last year. Their press release on the study confirms something we already suspected: “explosive growth in global social networking and browser-based file sharing on corporate networks, with a 300 percent increase in active social networking. (e.g., posting, applications) compared with activity during the same period in the latter half of 2010.”

The press release quotes the company’s CMO, René Bonvanie, saying “Whether or not employees are using social networks or sharing files at work is no longer a question; this data clearly demonstrates that users are embracing and actively using such applications.”
But, since network security is Palo Alto Networks’ business, the conclusion Bonvanie reaches is that you’d better watch out because productivity and network security are at risk. So the reporting of the study will serve mostly to encourage the lockdown of social channels at work. That conclusion, as far as I’m concerned, misses the point entirely.

In fact, a tripling of employee access to social networks is a cause for celebration, not panic.

For example, the numbers point to widespread adoption of Twitter at work. Nobody’s playing Farmville on Twitter, but we know from the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) study, “The New Symbiosis of Professional Networks,” that professional peer groups have moved from proprietary networks to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. It’s likely that a lot of the tweeting going on from work is work-related.

In 2010, the bandwidth consumed by employees for Faceboook apps, social plugins and posting was 5 percent. In the new study it has risen to 25 percent. isn’t it interesting, though, that Palo Alto Networks includes “posting” as one of the activities driving the increase.

The numbers also point to file sharing sites as the source of a lot of bandwidth consumption. Of course, posting to and visiting Slideshare and Scribd, for instance, are good things, not something to worry about. These are places where knowledge is transferred.

The reason workers are using social networks is, in large part, that these channels are increasingly becoming a routine part of how work gets done. Yes, I understand that some people abuse their access and that companies need to address concerns over the introduction of viruses and other infections, but these issues need to be addressed without hamstringing the bulk of the population that uses social networking to improve their productivity and the company’s performance.

Social channels is exactly where employees need to be, given the results of Edelman’s 2012 Trust Barometer, which was released today. According to the Executive Summary

(As trust in CEOs dropped, trust in) “a person like me” has re-emerged as one of the three most credible spokespeople, with the biggest increase in credibility since 2004, and now trails only academics and technical experts. Regular employees jumped from least credible spokesperson to tied for fourth on the list, with a 16-point record rise. Social-networking, microblogging, and conte-thsaring sites witnessed the most dramatic percentage increase as trusted sources of information about a company, rising by 88, 86, and 75 percent, respectively.These results alone should make it clear that a tripling of employee engagement in these channels bodes very, very well for companies.

If you need more evidence that this is just the way people communicate, there’s another report from ReadWrite Enterprise that wonders whether dumping email as a channel for employee-to-employee communication might just make sense. One of the reasons online veteran David Strom cites is that, “as social media becomes more prevalent, it becomes easier to have conversations in the public eye, or at least on the corporate Intranet.” He lists activities like posting questions and replies in these channels.

There are other shifts leading to email’s demise –- the shift to mobile, and that IM, group chats and other technologies work better. Of course, email between the company and anyone outside the organization would remain a regular communication tool.

But Strom’s post reinforces the point that we’re using social nertworks at work as an important part of getting the job done because it’s just more efficient. That’s what technology is supposed to do. Of course, there are organizations that get this. CNN Money profiled nine companies from the list of the best companies to work for that have added social networks to the workplace. For example, Intuit’s @TeamTurboTax draws upon product managers and engineers to tackle customers’ problems. Intuit says that when the tax season comes around, employees throughout the pipeline volunteer to contribute to the effort to respond to customersk. So, would all those posts be counted in the Palo Alto Networks’ “posting” data? And if so, that kind of traffic needs to be viewed as a company advantage,something to be nurtured, not a cause for locking down the organization.

I posted an item to my blog last week praising Zappos for its handling of the server security breach. One of Zappos’ actions was to send an email to customers. A few of the few commentsto my post came from people who hadn’t gotten that email. It didn’t take long before someone from Zappos left a comment that apologized, explained that the emails are going to tens of million of customers in batches and that took a while. He then let everyone know what to do without waiting for the email. He signed his comment, “Jonathan, random Zappos employee.” Again, these are legitimate work-related purposes to which these channels are being used. I’d start training employees to do more of this, not make it harder.

But Palo Alto Networks has an incentive to put its view out there as a press release that’ll find its way into the inbox of a lot of executives, and that’s why you’ll continue to see companies blocking employee access, like the more than half of companies in Ireland do.

Finally, remember the Altimeter Group’s social media preparedness study, which points out that companies that train their employees on policies and practices experience a far lower risk of problems arising from social media than those that bolt the doors.

If your employees aren’t among those whose use of social media at work has tripled, you have a reason to be concerned. Your competitors that understand that shift in work processes are primed to kick your ass.

I initially reported on this story on today’s episode of For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report.” It is cross-posted from my primary blog at holtz.com

Why block Facebook when it increasingly offers valuable work-related resources?

I’ve been spending a lot more time than usual on Facebook lately. Two recently formed groups are the culprits. Both are work-related. The first is the home to a largely intellectual discussion of how Wikipedia can work more closely with official representatives of organizations to ensure their companies’ entries are accurate and up-to-date. Wikipedia’s founder and Wikia owner Jimmy Wales has joined the closed group and the discussions with him have been mostly respectful, with information and ideas moving in both directions. Edelman Digital Senior Vice President Phil Gomes started the group after posting an open letter to Wales about the situation on his blog.

The second group, also a closed group, is one I started along with Joe Thornley, CEO of Thornley Fallis Group, as a place for the 80-plus participants of an eight-week IABC training program in social media to gather.

I was chagrined when one of the participants in the IABC program expressed her dismay that Facebook would be the home for our discussions. Her company, she said, blocks Facebook. Her participation in the class that she’s taking for work purposes, and for which her company is paying, will have to wait until she gets home.

She’s certainly not alone. Countless Facebook pages and groups are business-focused; employees spending time with these resources aren’t draining productivity. They’re working.

I also wondered how many smart people with ideas and insights to share are not participating in the Wikipedia discussion because their companies, too, prohibit employee access to Facebook.

Early in 2011, Robert Half Technology released an updated study revealing that 31% of companies block all social media access. While that’s a welcome declinie from the 54% reported in its first study two years earlier, it still demonstrates a surprising lack of forsight. Consumed buy easily addressed worries of productivity losses and network infections, these organizations deny themselves a host of benefits attainable by virtue of the fact that employees bring their social graphs to work with them every day.

Over the last few years, I have developed a list of ways employee access to social media can serve as a business advantage and competitive edge. It includes…

  • Recruiting
  • Idea testing and decision support
  • Brand and product/service evangelism
  • Reinforcing organizational culture and values
  • Competitive intelligence
  • Content curation
  • Access to subject matter experts
  • Training

Employees using Facebook can help the organization realize several of these benefits. In the cases of the two groups noted above where I’m spending more Facebook time than usual, training, idea testing/decision support and access to subject matter experts are all possible outcomes.

I’m inclined to add a new category based on the Wikipedia-focused group: having a voice in processes that could affect the employee’s industry. In this case, corporate listings in Wikipedia often contain inaccuracies and mininformation that go uncorrected because editors reject any input from company representatives. The informed debate taking place in the group — which includes high-level representation from PRSA and IABC — could lead to better understanding and even substantive change. Companies that block access to Facebook prevent their own communicators from participating in the discussion and influencing its outcome.

Yes, of course, communicators interested in engaging in the Wikipedia discussion and people enrolled in the IABC training can wait until they get home and still participate. But these are clearly work activities. Telling employees they only way they can access these resources is after-hours is no way to build employee engagement.

It’s one more reason for companies to develop the processes necessary to unblock their employees from tapping into their social networks.

Why Your C-Suite Should Love Open Access to Social Media

This is my presentation from BlogWorld and New Media Expo Los Angeles on November 5, 2011. It’s one of over 100 recorded sessions from BlogWorld Los Angeles 2011. You can get all of the videos — plus nearly 100 bonus interviews and other bonus content — by picking up the entire Virtual Ticket here: http://www.blogworldexpo.com/virtual-ticket-la-2011/

A sensible approach to employees and social media — from a government agency, no less

From the Department of Justice in Victoria, Australia, comes this video to guide employees on the smart use of social media at work. According to Amber MacArthur, writing in The Globe and Mail, “It explains how to engage in smart commenting online and asks employees to be respectful about how they use these tools on the job. While an educational and informative social media policy, whether in online form or in video form, won’t stop everyone from abusing online access, it’s a good start.”

Companies most ready for social media don’t block, experience fewer and less damaging crises

There are great companies, and there are all the rest.

The great companies are places where people want to work, and hence make the list of the top 100 companies to work for. Great companies also tend to be forward-looking. At the Altimeter Group — the analyst firm founded by Groundswell co-author Charlene Li — “Advanced” companies are at far end of the spectrum of efforts to weave social media into their business structures and processes.

Of 144 businesses surveyed for Altimeter’s latest report — Social Business Readiness — only 18 qualified as “Advanced.” The criteria for these organizations include governance models for policies to ensure responsible engagement in social channels, enterprise-wide response processes to ensure timely interactions with customers and other stakeholders, ongoing education and best-practice sharing, and the adoption of a central hub as a part of the organizational structure, often called a “Center of Excellence.”

It’s also worth noting that, like the best companies to work for, companies Altimeter deems “Advanced” don’t block employee access to social media. Or, as the report puts it, “Of the 144 companies we surveyed, all 18 Advanced companies allow rank-and-file employees to use social media professionally.”

This openness isn’t undertaken lightly, though. These organizations also educate and provide guardrails so employees understand how to participate safely and consistently. Detailed results include the following:

  • All 18 Advanced companies have social media policies in place and encourage employees to participate in social media as brand representatives. Among the 18, five require formal approval, seven have pre-defined guidelines and six actively encourage participation among all staff. None discourage staff social media use.
  • Thirteen of the 18 Advanced companies have introduced baseline processes to reinforce and update the policy and to train newly hired staff. Among all companies, only 26% have such processes.
  • 72% of Advanced companies organize ongoing education opportunities for those employees engaged on behalf of the company in social channels. These include brown bag lunches, speaker series and internal conferences. Across the less (or non) Advanced companies, only 34% maintain ongoing education.
  • 72% of Advanced companies have processes that allow employees to share best practices, compared to 35% of all organizations.

 

One key result of these preparations is a dramatically reduced likelihood of getting caught up in a social media crisis (or limited impact if a crisis does occur). That’s ironic, since one reason the less advanced companies block employee access is fear that employees online will instigate crises.

Will the less advanced companies get the message and take the steps required to weave social media into their business processes? Some will — eventually — and others never will, but there are underlying reasons why they aren’t the best places to work or the most advanced organizations. With their competitors getting on board, you have to wonder how long the least advanced companies with the least desirable work environments will last long.

Note: I’ve posted a summary of the full report and another post highlighting the crisis dimensions of the report.

None of the top 100 best companies to work for block employee access to social media

‘Nuff said.

Another study distorts the cost of employee social networking

Shame on CBS Radio News.

On its June 23 6 p.m. (EDT) top-of-the-hour newscast, CBS reported on the results of a study that indicate Facebook and other social networking sites are costing companies lost worker productivity.

I dashed home to find the source of the report. What I found was a month-old study that focused on all manner of workplace distractions. In fact, email processing and switching windows to complete tasks both ranked higher as sources of distraction (33%) than social media activities (20%).

Yet CBS didn’t bother to point this out, which undoubtedly led hundreds of business leaders to contact their IT departments to make sure employees didn’t have access to these sites.

CBS also didn’t explain why they were reporting now on a study USA Today reported back on May 18.

There are issues with the study as well, which reports that the hour spent each day on distractions accounts for “$10,375 of wasted productivity per person annually,” which translates to $10 million per year for a 1,000-employee company.

Which is hogwash.

After all, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased at a 1.8 percent annual rate during the first quarter of 2011…The gain in productivity reflects increases of 3.2 percent in output and 1.4 percent in hours worked.

It’s a bit disingenuous to claim declining productivity in the face of evidence that American worker productivity continues to rise.

The study also doesn’t bother to acknowledge that most employees don’t put in a traditional eight-hour day. In the U.S., according to a UN study, 85.8 percent of men and 66.5 percent of women work more than 40 hours per week. A 2006 study from Lexmark found that knowledge workers as a whole put in an average of five hours per week in excess of what the job requires, and well over half take work home with them. I’d bet real money that those numbers have increased in the intervening half-decade.

Simply put, you can’t claim lost productivity based on time spent on distractions without accounting for the total number of hours worked both at home and away. This study did nothing of the sort. Most don’t.

But the study goes even further when it claims that distractions by email, phone calls and chats with colleagues result in lost productivity. Really? Even if those calls and chats are work-related? Even if they result in accomplishment of tasks and achievement of business goals? The study made no effort to distinguish what percentage of those distractions were work-related.

Even worse, the top method companies have implemented to address these distractions is blocking of access to social networks (48%), even though social networking doesn’t come anywhere near email as the top source of distraction. Nowhere does the study try to determine if any of those online social activities bring any benefit to the employer (such as recruiting or brand ambassadorship).

It’s sad that the study presents so much distorted information, since some of the findings can be genuinely useful. For example, two-thirds of workers interrupt group meetings to communicate with someone else, mostly by email or answering a cell phone call (together these account for 83% of in-meeting interruptions). The study also attempts to quantify the impact of distractions, which include difficulty focusing on work, lack of time for deep or creative thinking and missed deadlines.

But as long as companies continue to use back-of-the-envelope calculations to heighten unreasonable fear of social networking, and media outlets like CBS Radio News continue to spotlight the sensational rather than the factual, companies will continue to dismiss the benefits of employee social networking and implement policies that can be worse than the problems they’re designed to fix.

Cross-posted to Holtz Communication + Technology

My Blogworld presentation: Why CEOs Should Love Open Employee Access to Social Media

Please keep in mind that this presentation was designed to serve as speaker support and was not intended to be a standalone presentation.