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Social Media Goes to Work

Social Media Goes to Work

David Wentworth | i4cp

August 17, 2010

With Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media technologies virtually omnipresent lately, it’s not surprising that many managers are wondering how to leverage these tools. Sales and marketing were the first to exploit these technologies, which present new ways of reaching customers. But the real trick is finding ways to improve productivity, collaboration, communication and learning within organizations using tools that increasingly look like mainstays rather than fads.

It turns out that not many companies have figured out this trick yet. According to The Rise of Social Media, a report that the American Society for Training & Development commissioned from i4cp, less than 20% of employees are using social networks, wikis, blogs, podcasts or shared media for work-related learning often or all the time. Fewer than 10% are using micro-blogs (Twitter, Yammer, etc.), virtual worlds or augmented realities to the same extent.

Okay, so most people aren’t using social media for learning often or all the time. So what? Why should an organization be interested in any of this in the first place? A big reason is the influx of the Millennial generation (those born after 1981) into the workforce. This is a generation that would rather send a text to someone down the hall rather than speak in person, or even by phone for that matter. They cut their teeth on MySpace and soon graduated to Facebook, and if there isn’t video of something available one YouTube, they’re not convinced it actually happened.

The technology-aided social interactions these workers have grown up with represent a type of informal learning – one they are going to expect to find at their place of work. More than 80% of the Millenials in the study have used Facebook in their personal lives, and close to 60% have used YouTube. About 45% of Millenials said they interact with social media for learning at work for anywhere from 30 minutes to more than an hour per day. Only about a third of Baby Boomers said the same thing. Employees of all generations know these tools are going to become more important, as 83% percent of respondents say social media use for learning will increase over the next three years.

Another reason organizations should consider adopting these tools more widely is that it appears they work. The study showed that higher performing organizations are more likely to encourage the use of these tools than lower performers. Workers who use these tools for work use them for specific reasons, and many of these uses are correlated with higher market performance, including:

- Finding resources more easily
- Improving knowledge sharing
- Fostering learning
- Improving communications
- Increasing participation in learning

While employers may not yet see the value in these tools for learning, employees do. More than three-quarters of employees said they found podcasts at least somewhat valuable for work-related learning and slightly fewer said the same about wikis. Blogs, shared media and social networks were considered valuable by around two-thirds of employees.

Understandably, though, many organizations don’t wish to jump in to the social media fray without serious consideration. Besides not wanting to get caught up in a fad that may become obsolete, there are security concerns as well. More than two-thirds of study participants said they believe social media tools have the potential to create security or privacy issues at work. There are also concerns that user-generated content will not be accurate and may actually impair the learning process.

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