Why it’s a bad idea to bar employees’ social media use at work

A study from Pew Research Center reveals that although employees sometimes use social media at work for personal reasons, many use it in ways that can help your business.

For years we’ve been trying to answer the same question: Why do organizations bar employees from using social media at work?

Such organizations might not be as prevalent as they were four or five years ago, but there are still companies out there who block employees from accessing social media sites while on the clock. Heck, I’ve had marketing clients who had to get special exemptions to visit YouTube and Facebook.

Organizations block social media sites for two primary reasons:

1. They’re a drain on employee productivity.

2. They’re a drain on IT resources, such as bandwidth.

However, a recent Pew Research Center study confirms what many of us suspect: Not only should organizations refrain from blocking social media sites, but they should actually encourage employees to use them.

Take a peek at a few nuggets from the survey:

  • Twenty percent of respondents use social media at work to get information that helps them solve a problem.
  • Seventeen percent use it to strengthen relationships with colleagues.
  • Seventeen percent use it to learn about someone with whom they work.
  • Twelve percent pose work-related questions to people outside the organization.
  • Twelve percent pose work-related questions to people inside their organization.

The hey takeaway is that many people use social media to enhance their performance and solve problems at work.

Big surprise, right?

In fairness, the top two reasons employees use social media at work are to take a mental break (34 percent) and to connect with family and friends (27 percent).

That’s more than a fair trade-off.

Yes, those two reasons are what employers are chiefly concerned about (“wasted productivity”), but didn’t employees get mental breaks and time to connect with family and friends on work time long before social media?

Look at the numbers again. Twenty percent of employees are using social media to solve problems at work. That’s without most companies’ encouraging them to do so. Imagine if organizations actually endorsed social media use. What would the numbers look like then?

It all comes down to corporate culture. I imagine most businesses still operate under the assumption that if you’re using Facebook at work, you’re wasting time.

However, according to those data, there’s a good chance employees are using Facebook to:

  • Connect with an industry peer to help them solve a business problem
  • Skim a co-worker’s LinkedIn profile to get to know him before they work on a project together
  • Connect with a former colleague who can contribute to an upcoming project

These are all legitimate reasons for people to use social media at work. Also remember that we’re not talking about a study by some social media platform that benefits from the numbers. We’re talking about Pew.

Communicators, it might be time to meet with your organization’s leaders to make some changes to your social media policy. (After all, you’re probably the one who created it.) If your organization is still blocking social media sites, consider the benefits of opening those channels. Admit that you’re already losing productivity among employees—and that’s not completely due to online networking.

Don’t let fear run your business. Think about the upsides of social media rather than always dwelling on the risks.

A version of this article originally appeared on Communication Conversations.

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