From the perspective of many executives who have spent a couple of decades efficiently running successful businesses, social networking can appear to be a virtual version of hanging out around the water cooler. Facebook and Twitter can seem like great places for workers not to do work — damaging productivity rates and stretching out deadlines.
But under the façade of social chitchat, there’s serious business being done — that is, if your employees are being guided in the smart ways to network online. I won’t lie to you: my own company has embraced the disruption of social business, and there can be times when the hyper-collaborative combination of social networking and work can cause major distractions. But there are benefits. Here’s why running a social business is essential to business growth.
Social business creates efficiencies
The old-school way of running a business is to get rid of distractions so that workers can focus on work. However, eliminating distractions tends to also clamp down on the synergies that get unlocked when people get social and collaborate. Social businesses create “messy efficiencies” — that is, the seeming chaos of going social can actually help save time and streamline processes.
Here’s an example: My company is growing fast, and getting new employees up to speed on our business can’t be accomplished in a couple of orientation meetings. By looping them into our internal social business tools like Google, Box, Mindtouch and Facebook, they are immediately part of our ongoing dialogue about business success. They learn quickly and they are active participants in discussions from day one. It’s drinking from the fire hose in terms of feeding them information, but in a good way that keeps pace with growth.
Millennials take social networking seriously
If your workforce is heavy with under-30s, creating a social business is a necessity, not an option. For younger workers, social networking is the primary way they communicate, both in their personal and professional lives — which means you can’t force them back to a time when collaboration meant conference-room meetings and long memos.
A business that’s committed to attracting talent must offer an environment where social collaboration is championed, since it’s how Millennials maximize their productivity. With social collaboration tools like Google Plus, employees can collaborate quickly and efficiently. But most important, those dialogues are taken out of email and into a format that can be searched by others at a later date. Taking document authoring out of email and into a document collaboration tool like Box rapidly simplifies version control. There are dozens of examples where social collaboration drives productivity.
In addition, Millennials also define their work identity via social collaboration. Resumes are stored in LinkedIn. Business travel is shared in Tripit. WordPress blogs by employees lauding your work environment can be one of your best recruiting tools.
Your customers are already social
No matter how worried you are about the impact of social within your company, there’s one group of stakeholders that you can’t ignore. By now your customers have figured out that social media is their best friend when it comes to choosing products or figuring out how to get the most from their technology investments. They naturally will be inclined to work with a company that is responsive and active on social media channels — and never forget that your competition is just one Google search away.
Businesses around the world are adding social to their existing CRM strategies, figuring out how social CRM works for them. From brand management to customer service inquiries, today’s socially enabled businesses are adopting tools and processes for listening, engaging and directing social discussions about their products and services. A common way of driving inbound marketing traffic is to promote a thought leadership agenda for your industry across social media channels like blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Measurement can prove social networking’s value
You can sleep easy knowing that the time workers spend on Facebook and Twitter may be paying off for the business. You can now measure — up to a point — how key employees are presenting themselves before their social channels, and if they have the power to attract liked-minded influencers to your business. Services like Klout or PeerIndex can measure a user’s influence across social networks, taking into account how much content they’ve created and how people interact with that content.
Mind you, measuring social media influence can get tricky. For one thing, users can game the system by spamming connections with posts if they think their Klout ranking isn’t what it should be. (Klout, like many things online, can become addictive.) But at least you can see whether your business social stars are having conversations — for example, with customers and partners — that are benefiting the business.
The social business “proof points” above are just a few reasons why encouraging your team to carry on these conversations has a tangible payoff. The next time you walk around the office and see Twitter feeds open on screens, relax — it’s more productive than it looks.
Clint Oram is chief technology officer and co-founder of SugarCRM. He was one of the original architects and developers of the Sugar application and has focused on helping build out the product, company, partners and community. Earlier, he held senior roles at Epiphany, Octane Software and Hewlett Packard. He has 15 years’ experience in enterprise software and over 10 years designing and building award-winning CRM solutions. Clint is a co-author of a CRM software patent. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.