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Opinion pieces on business & economic issues

KWON Soo-Hwan

Social Media Can Move Employees' Minds

KWON Soo-Hwan

Oct. 1, 2010

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In the business world companies are realizing that communicating with employees is just as important as communicating with customers. While conventional face-to-face contact is extremely important, we all know that it is not feasible or practical given the size and scope of companies and the way business is conducted away from offices these days.

Instant messenger and email, of course, have become office standards for communications. And now smartphones, which enable instantaneous information sharing, seem destined to become de rigueur, accelerating the amount and speed of communications.

To bridge the gap companies are increasingly turning to Internet-based social media, a term used by Chris Shipley, the founder of San Francisco-based Guidewire Group , a global market intelligence firm and is now personified by blogs, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, which have become influential mediums themselves. Facebook now has more than 500 million users worldwide, and there are about 140 million users "tweeting" on Twitter.

The use of social media tools for companies is now a must, not a choice. It is proven to be a tool that can e nhance operational creativity needed to hatch new ideas as well as help maximize profits. According to research by IBM on its own staff, employees that use social media generate an average of US$588 more revenue than those who do not.

How can companies successfully utilize social media? First, participation from top business leaders is important to draw attention from employees. Less influential people may cause skepticism. Com panies and CEOs must be able to deliver reliable information, start conversations, and provide answers directly and quickly. In the initial stages, companies need to use experts who broach compelling discussion topics and expedite the gathering of employee opinions.

Second, companies need to choose the types of social media that best suit their conditions, and that employees can easily access. Broadly, social media comes in three types.

The first type is the corporate intranet, where employees can upload information. While this facilitates the use of social media by older employees, who may be less familiar with the latest communications technology, the start-up fixed costs are high. The second type is blogs, where companies can provide information. This enables sharing not only of work information, but also people's individual interests, enabling employees to maintain good relationships with each other. This form of social media, however, requires substantial time and effort by blog operators to create content and update the blog. The third is Twitter-type outlet that enables horizontal opinion sharing and instantaneous global updates. The cost and time investment is low and the information is shared in real time, but the potential is higher for leakage of confidential data and the spread of distorted information.

Third, companies need to provide trustworthy and timely information. Information must be objective and accurate. Providing information selectively and stressing only performance can hamper employees' trust. Providing information on a company's major issues is also important.

Fourth, companies need to ensure online security. This calls for resolving technical issues with respect to information leaks, hacking, and attacks from compromised websites, while establishing appropriate policies and guidelines. According to a study by Sophos (a UK-based IF security firm) on the security implications of social media at 500 global companies, hacking increased by 70% in 2009 compared to 2008 as social media rose in popularity. Phishing and malware attacks also increased 10% in the same period.

Support for social media should thus be consistently promoted, from initial establishment to long-term regular use. Platforms deployed with great fanfare will be of little use if nobody ends up using them. Above all, the most important thing is voluntary participation by employees. Offering various incentives to employees using social media will be desirable so that employees can have more, and more varied chances to stretch their creativity.

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