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Social media gets the job done at work

Marketplace Staff May 29, 2009

Social media gets the job done at work

Marketplace Staff May 29, 2009


KAI RYSSDAL: If you’ve got a desk job, you’re familiar with the temptation. In between writing reports or working on a spreadsheet, you click over to Twitter or Facebook to see what’s going on out there.

We all do it, even though it’s probably against the strict letter of your company’s Internet policy. Pressure to loosen those restrictions though is mounting, and some companies have actually encouraging social media use on the job. As Devin Dwyer reports now from New York.

Devin Dwyer: Imagine your boss asking you to blog, use Facebook and watch YouTube videos on company time. That’s what happens at IBM.

Tim Washer: And this first line, as you see Peter, that’s the punch line.

Peter Thomas: The monster comes up there.

Washer: That’s right.

Thomas: yeah, I’ll try three, OK.

Tim Washer is IBM’s web video manager. He’s on a conference call with Peter Thomas, the voice of Burger King commercials. And they’re reading the script for a video for YouTube.

Thomas: Separating useful information from oceans of irrelevant data has become the key to understanding the world that we live in.

The video touts one of IBM’s latest innovations, but it’s not an advertisement. Clips like this one go on YouTube so the company’s 400,000 can view them around the world. They help educate workers and generate buzz around the office. And they’re just one part of the social media culture at IBM.

Thirty three-year-old consultant Michelle O’Malley says online social networks are places IBM-ers exchange ideas and build professional relationships.

Michelle O’Malley: You almost feel like if you’re not on Facebook you’re doing something wrong. Everyone at IBM is on Facebook and it’s not just my level or my age range — it’s all the way up the chain.

But isn’t surfing Facebook and watching YouTube videos supposed to be a waste of company time? IBM treats a five-minute break to browse the internet like a coffee or smoke break. But that’s not the management style at many businesses.

David Meerman Scott is a social media consultant. He says more than half of U.S. companies ban employees from using blogs and online communities at work.

David Meerman Scott: Do companies ban people from going to the water cooler to talk? Of course they don’t. But they choose to ban tools of social media, because they’re scared of them or because they don’t understand them.

Scott says that can be a turn-off for young, tech-savvy workers.

Scott: If you don’t trust your employees to do the right thing, your employees aren’t going to trust you to be an organization that’s worthy of working at.

Some businesses say rules against social media make sense. Investment banks want to avoid the risk of insider trading. Legal firms need to protect confidential client information. And, pharmaceutical companies worry about the liability of engaging patients on blogs and chat rooms.

Ray Kerins: The more people are actually sharing their information with us, the more we actually have to respond.

That’s Ray Kerins of Pfizer, speaking at a meeting of communications executives. He says drug makers are unsure of whether to investigate and report potential drug side effects they learn about online. They don’t want to be fined by the FDA or have to investigate every case, no matter how dubious the claim.

Kerins says that’s why only Pfizer’s PR staff can use social media for now.

Kerins: The challenge is, we’re a regulated industry. There is no guidance right now about what we can or cannot do in this space. There needs to be.

In 2007, half of all adults used online social tools. That’s grown to three quarters of adults today. Kerins says for companies like Pfizer, it’s no longer a question of whether to adopt social media, but how to adopt it, as more tech-savvy employees seek to log-on at work.

In New York, I’m Devin Dwyer for Marketplace.

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