It’s hard to keep up with social media these days. Just when you thought you’d caught up – with the departmental blog, the Twitter, the Foursquare and the Bubblemint (which we just made up), here comes Advanced Workplace Associates with a study of 19 blue-chip companies ¬- including Barclays, Microsoft, Tesco and Pfizer - and some bad news: you may be guilty of cutting off talented Gen Y types from their natural habitat.
That doesn’t mean companies should draft in kids to sit round the office drinking cider, rapping and playing LA Noire. Gen Yers ‘live their lives on smart-phones and networking on Facebook,’ according to AWA MD Andrew Mawson, ‘but large organisations that deprive this group of social networking tools deprive them of a key tool for success.’
There’s clearly something in the water. Last week, consultant Able & How and Red Sky Vision released a film featuring interviews with various industry bods, including MT contributing editor Stefan Stern, talking about the same thing. The film cites a figure from Melcrum that only 7% of business users admit to integrating social media into their wider marketing strategy. ‘Whole generations of staff are side stepping the organisation to communicate with clients, colleagues, contractors and their peers,’ said Robin Block, director of Red Sky Vision.
The answer: building them social networking-style platforms within your company’s IT network so they can share ideas in a way that’s far more dynamic, natural and inclusive than using the company’s intranet. Given social networking is all about connecting and communicating, the argument goes, to ignore it is like robbing older employees of their phone or email because it’s bad for business.
But while social media’s main strength is as an enabler, it’d be pointless if it’s only used by the younger generation. The people with all the knowledge, responsibility and experience in a company may well take the most convincing to use established platforms like Facebook and Twitter, let alone create and use whole new ones within the business.
‘Banks are very risk-averse,’ says Madeleine Kavanagh, head of communications at Deutsche Bank, who spoke to MT after appearing in the film. ‘So when they’re told to collaborate and share information, it goes against their instinct.’
Yet that's not the only reason to be wary of such developments. Many bosses still fear their employees misusing their time - or sending out the wrong message - on new media platforms. Such a controlling instinct may seem decidedly unhip these days, but it's still strong - and very often serves a purpose.
Such tech revamps tend to come with a lot of hot-air about how everyone simply has to move on. As usual the sensible approach is to look into them with an open mind. But here you may have no choice. ‘If the communications professionals aren’t driving it, they could soon find themselves becoming the amateurs in the equation,' says Kavanagh. Tweet that.