What Companies Fear Most About Social Media

A recent survey from eMarketer outlines both the perceived benefits and the primary concerns that business executives have about social media.  Chief among their reservations: information security and employee productivity.

Considering that 51% of the survey’s non-social media-using respondents said they “don’t know enough about” social media, their concerns about security and productivity are understandable.  From the outside, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other tools might seem like a waste of time when compared to what executives already know works.  And without exposure to the way these tools are commonly used, it’s easy to presume that these mysterious new services can somehow derail your business if they’re used improperly.

To calm these fears, Ford’s head of social media, Scott Monty, often cites an anecdote related to him by Tactical Transparency author Shel Holtz*:

“A friend sent me a PDF of an article from a business journal in which a company expressed reservations about this new technology over which everyone seemed to be abuzz. They decided that they would restrict employees’ use of it, because of the fear of corporate secrets getting out, of insider information making its way to Wall Street, and of employees wasting their time on it. For that reason, they set up the hardware on a single station in the middle of everyone’s desks so that everyone could see how people were using it.

“That PDF was an article from a 1930s business journal and the technology was the telephone.”

Concerns about information security and lost productivity are ultimately corporate fears about control (or lack thereof).  But employees’ actions within social media channels are nothing new.  People have already been talking about their jobs for generations; all these new tools do is make that discussion easier to join, share and track.  The fear of losing control is unfounded.

Or, as Monty himself likes to add: If you don’t trust your employees enough to not damage your brand with their online actions… why did you hire them in the first place?

* Incidentally, Monty has spoken at our biennial Business Smart Tools conferences; the next BST event will take place in 2011.

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