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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, not YouTube specifically. The study, reported in Psychological Science, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science, divided participants into three groups, then sought to affect their modds with three different types of stimuli:
The first group listened to an upbeat Mozart piece and watched a video of a laughing baby; the second listened to a musical score from the movie Schindler’s List and watched a news report about an earthquake; and the third listened to music and watched a video that were shown not to affect mood. Volunteers were then asked to learn to recognize a pattern that existed in a problem.
The first group — the “happy group” — was better at identifying the pattern than the other groups. “If you have a project where you want to think innovatively, or you have a problem to carefully consider, being in a positive mood can help you do that,” said researcher Ruby Nadler. TIME’s conclusion: “Next time your coworker sends you a link to the latest laugh-inducing viral video, take a moment to check it out before tackling the most complicated item on your to-do list. Your boss will thank you.”
It’s one more bit of research that indirectly supports leaving employee access to YouTube open. It all starts to stack up against the non-research-supported moves to block access based on FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt.
The various reasons companies block employee access to social media can be summed up in one word: fear. Among the many things that make employers afraid, from lost productivity to network infections, worry that employees will say the wrong things — or, worse, bad things — ranks near to the top.
A Forrester study released last week (and reported by Josh Bernoff) offers a good-news/bad-news outlook on the behavior of employees — specifically information workers — online.
The bad news — Nearly half of information workers are likely to talk down the company; fewer than a third are inclined to promote it
The good news — Among staff who already use social media, nearly half would recommend a company’s products or services; only 22% would bad-mouth them
The Forrester study, principally written by Matthew Brown, appliced a slightly adjusted version of the Net Promoter Score to its research. The 5,519 information workers from five countries were asked to answer this question on a 1-10 rating: “How likely are you to recommend your company’s products or services to a friend or family member?” You were a promoter is you scored your answer 9 or 10 and a detractor if your ranking came in between 0 and 6. The NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of your detractors from that of your promoters.
Among information workers across the board, the NPS was -23%, but among those already active in social channels, it was 26%.
Two lessons emerge from the study:
Let the employees who are already using social media do so from work and, with appropriate policies and training, let them serve as enthusiastic ambassadors for the organization.
Start focusing on the detractors. Your organization needs to look at the culture, the steps required to boost engagement, and the pressing need to bolster product, brand, and business literacy.
When employees are aligned with the company, there’s no end to the benefits they bring to the organization, as reported in this article from Advertising Age which argues (in the same excerpt Josh used in his post)…
While employees have always been the front line of customer interactions for brands, particularly those in the service industry, a number of factors of late have brought them more to the fore, including a more transparent and socially engaged society, a still-fragile economy where everyday value trumps aspirational brand attributes, and an ongoing lack of trust in corporate America and CEO spokespeople.
Your first step is to take the pulse of your employees. How does your employee population compare to the Forrester sample? If it’s as bad (or worse), you need to identify the reasons, then introduce the cures. It’s not easy, but it can be done — in fact, in the current business environment, it’s not optional. Ogilvy PR’s Rohit Bhargava, quoted in the AdAge piece, says, “Employees are the actual heart of the brand.” Without their support in a world increasingly characterized by the interconnectedness of people, a brand not represented by its people is at a disadvantage that can be impossible to overcome.
I’ve been intrigued, since launching this site, by the inordinate number of comments left by high school students. After all, the Stop Blocking initiative is aimed at business, not academia. But Voce Communications’ Doug Haslam pointed me to a notice that Newton North High School — close to Doug’s Boston home — is considering shutting down student access to Facebook.
This is being debated at SFA (Student Faculty Administration). Your input will help SFA decide. The next meeting is April 13th @ 7:00am in the library. It is open for all students and staff to attend. (Note: Facebook is currently blocked at all Newton Public Schools.)
A poll included with the item currently stands at 370 votes against blocking and 87 in favor. The cynic in me suspects it was mostly students casting the opposing votes and parents voting yes.
The comments left to the item on the Wicked Local blog that directed me to the Learning Commons site, however, got me thinking more about the issue. The impetus behind the ban is at least partly based on the worry that kids use Facebook to bully others. One comment, for example, reads…
I am a private tutor in Newton. Just this year, I have had 3 Newton students (2 from North, 1 from South) who have been involved with the Newton police due to cyberbullying via Facebook. I am not sure what the outcome was, but I know for a fact that there were threats and there was police involvement.
Bullying is a problem, to be sure. It was a problem when I was in school, and when my parents were in school. The recent case in South Hadley, Massachusetts — in which nine teens were indicted for their roles in relentlessly bullying a 15-year-old girl who was driven to kill herself — is another tragedy that points to a serious need for action.
But blaming the Internet or Facebook is a mistake. In fact, I don’t care for the term “cyberbullying.” Is bullying that takes place over the phone called “phonebullying?” The venue is irrelevant. The channel isn’t the problem. The problem is the attitude that some kids have that bullying is okay wherever they can engage in it.
The situation reminds me of hospital CEO Paul Levy’s reaction when he learned that another hospital in the area was blocking Facebook because some staff members had violated HIPAA — the regulation that protects patient privacy — on Facebook. Levy, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (also in Boston), wrote on his “Running a Hospital” blog:
Any form of communication (even conversations in the elevator!) can violate important privacy rules, but limiting people’s access to social media in the workplace will mainly inhibit the growth of community and discourage useful information sharing. It also creates a generational gap, in that Facebook, in particular, is often the medium of choice for people of a certain age. I often get many useful suggestions from staff in their 20’s and 30’s who tend not to use email. Finally, consider the cost of building and using tools that attempt to “track utilization and monitor content.” Not worth the effort, I say.
Interestingly, the use of Facebook under consideration at Newton North involves a portal for parents, where they could view information relevant to their childrens’ education, including homework and projects.
I see multiple problems, though, with blocking kids’ access. First, many of them — like their counterparts in the business world — don’t need the school’s computers to access Facebook; they can do that just fine on their mobile phones. Lack of access from school won’t stop cyberbullying, either; they’ll just do it when they get home to their own computers.
But what’s really at issue is starting to teach using the channels that kids are already using in a manner that reflects the way peopale will be working and learning with increasing frequency. Collaborating on team projects makes more sense on Facebook than a proprietary school system because Facebook is (for now) the network they’ll continue to use in college and then in the work world. (A recent study (PDF file) from the Society for New Communication Research (SNCR) determined that decision-makers in the business world are making faster and better decisions by tapping their Social Media Peer Groups (SMPGs) via Facebook and LinkedIn. Failing to guide students in the use of the resources they’ll be required to use just to get their jobs done by the time they graduate is a failure of the education system.
I’m not talking about unrestricted Facebook use while students should be focused on schoolwork. But teachers need to begin figuring out how to incorporate social networking into their teaching plans in order for the coursework to be truly relevant. The idea that people work in isolation is fast becoming outdated, as the SNCR study reveals; teaching kids to do schoolwork in a vacuum is not preparing them for the processes they’ll need to understand when they go to college (where online collaboration is just the extension of the age-old study group) and then when they enter the world of work.
That is, teachers should be teaching the ways social neteworks can benefit their learning while actively discouraging bullying of any kind. The issues are, in fact, mutually exclusive.
Doug Haslam himself gets the final word, from a comment he left to the Wicked Local blog:
The thing is, people will form their own groups where they want regardless of what is “blocked.” It makes sense for schools to have some presence on Facebook — not to supervise or watch, but to participate as part of a community.
A proprietary network makes sense as far as assignments, but experimenting — as class groups, in the right circumstances — with Facebook and other social tools is a way to tap into how people are now working together in the real world.
That doesn’t mean students should be using Facebook during school hours to play Farmville, just as it shouldn’t in the workplace (where, for the most part, Facebook should not be blocked either. But, there are some applications. As someone astutely said (in an earlier comment), high school kids are on Facebook anyway. Maybe we should teach them how to use it to be better community citizens (online and off) rather than ignore it at our peril.
We have users that repeatedly get infected with viruses and spyware no matter what level or type of antivirus and antispyware software we install. It’s rather odd that ONLY THOSE particular users get re-infected day after day and that they all have MySpace accounts, FaceBook accounts, or whatever. Their employers have to continually pay us to come and clean these infections.
My reply was a bit terse. I asked Jones if he believed all the companies that don’t block access were lying about not encountering the problems he cited. (And no, I wasn’t snarky enough to point out that “outdated” is one word.)
The security issue does, however, appear to be supplanting productivity concerns as the main reason companies block access to Facebook and other social media sites. Among the dominant social networks, Facebook presents the biggest risk to company security, according to 60% of the respondents to a survey of 500 companies conducted by Sophos, an IT security organization. No other network comes close. MySpace ranks second, with 18% of companies identifying it as a concern, followed by Twitter (17%) and LinkedIn (4%).
The concerns are not illegitimate. The incidents of reported malware and spam attacks through social networks has jumped 70% since April of last year. Social networks have become common launching pads fore a couple of particularly nasty worms. The risk of infection, though, is not the only security issue that keeps IT staff up at night. Employees’ individual behavior represents a risk, particularly as web-unsavvy employees fall prey to phishing and other devious ploys. And then there’s the fear that employees will share information they shouldn’t.
Sarah Perez goes into considerable detail on the Sophos report in her post on ReadWriteWeb. Perez also notes that even Sophos isn’t advocating an outright block, despite the study’s findings:
Unfortunately for those in charge of enforcing corporate security, simply blocking Facebook and other social networks via URL is not a realistic solution anymore. The networks are often a large part of a company’s marketing and sales strategies, notes Sophos, meaning they cannot be blocked outright. Instead, companies are encouraged to use a unified approach for mitigating threats that combines data monitoring, malware protection and granular access for their employees.
A Financial Times article (free registration required) has the same advice, noting that organizations have too much to gain from employee interactions on social networks. The article, penned by the head of an information risk management and e-discovery firm, rightly notes that leetting employees access social networks from work gives them “the ability to locate the right people, information and expertise quickly, but they also greatly aid external networking, sales and marketing activities.”
The article (which I discovered on the Idea Peepshow blog, notes thyat 89% of businesses in the UK have no policies governing employee use of social networks and calls for companies to establish and enforce such policies.
As I’ve noted before, protecting the company is a matter of ensuring the proper network safeguards are in place (such as anti-malware/spyware software and the latest virus definitions) and that employees understand their responsibilities.
It works in a lot of companies that don’t block access. It can work in yours.
Reports of the degree to which organizations are blocking employee access to social sites continues to be discouraging, particularly given the reasons for these policies are based on misinformation and a fundamental failure to recognize the value that would accrue to organizations that developed smart policies to foster smart engagement between employees and the public.
This time around, the bad news comes out of the UK, where 90% of councils restrict access to social media. The results come from a study conducted by SOCITM, the professional association for public sector ICT management. Ironically, this group had earlier encouraged organizations to lift such restrictions, recognizing that “social media is…an economical way for public sector organisations to deliver services, communicate with staff and engage with the community.”
According to the study, 67% of councils have implemented scorched-earth policies, blocking all use of social media. Among the remaining 33%, some confine use to lunchtime and before and after work. The SOCITM report interprets these finds as proof that councils don’t see any business value to employee participation in social media.
There’s an almost equal split between councils that view security as the main reason for limiting or blocking access and those who see productivity as the problem. Still, SOCITM believes that stopping employees from tapping into these sites is impossible, given the fact that most workers have their own devices — like smartphones — that give them access to services like Facebook and Twitter. But the fact that employee access increases engagement with the communities the councils serve is the dimension of the report that jumped out at me. According to Christopher Head, who co-authored the report:
CIOs and heads of ICT need to take the lead and educate colleagues on the organisation’s management team about the benefits of social media, as well as finding ways to accommodate them appropriately and safely through the corporate infrastructure.
This advice is coming from more and more quarters, including reserach firm Gartner, which has urged businesses to take advantage of employees’ connection to sites like Facebook to facilitate their business-to-consumer strategies.
It just seems managers would rather succumb to baseless fears and take the easy way out than listen to the advice of experts who know what they’re talking about.
For the first few years of my first job in the business world, my department manager would make monthly circuits of the office carrying pages and pages of telephone records. He would stop at each of his employees’ offices and cubes and review the calls made from their phones. Personal calls earned a rebuke.
Eventually, he gave up on this routine as the company grew to accept calls non-work-related numbers as an integral part of employees’ lives. Making doctors’ appointments, talking to kids’ teachers, checking in at home — these all eventually became non-issues at most organizations.
For the networked generation, checking in on Facebook is no different, according to a Deloitte study that assessed teen attitudes about ethics. Teens “are as likely to post something on a social networking site as they are to pick up a phone,” according to Maureen Mohlenkamp, Deloitte’s deputy ethics officer. According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article reporting on the study, “Social networking has become so critical to the younger generation of workers, Ms. Mohlenkamp believes that having access to the sites might someday be viewed as an employee perk, along the lines of health benefits or a company cell phone.”
The key takeaway from the study, according to Mohlenkamp: “For companies to be viewed as an employer of choice, they will need to provide access to these sites. Then, it will be important for them to provide the appropriate training and education for new hires to prevent risks to the employee and the organization.”
The training and education will be necessary because 40 percent of teens — along with a third of adults (based on another Deloitte study) — fail to consider that bosses, recruiters, parents and college admission staff could look at, and be influenced by, what they post to their pages.
Opinion Research Corp. conducted the study the week of September 21 among 1,000 teens between the ages of 12 and 17.
Bob LeDrew tweeted the link to this video from TED, featuring Stefana Broadbent. It runs about 9 minutes and the connection between Stefana’s observations about how the Internet fosters intimacy and companies blocking access comes near the end. Stick with it; it’s worthwhile.
Companies everywhere are blocking employee access to the Net, fueled by questionable research and irresponsible pronouncements of self-serving individuals and organizations. This site is designed to serve as a hub information resource for those who believe the benefits of providing access far outweigh the risks.