Memo to the boss: Twitter's not a time suck

January 19, 2010: 10:00 AM ET

Good reasons why corporations should embrace social networks in the workplace

By Mark Schmulen, CEO, NutshellMail

Schmulen says corporations should embrace - not block - social media. Photo: NutshellMail.

According to Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professional services, 54% of U.S. corporations restrict employee access to social networks due to concerns about productivity, network security, and legal liabilities.

Sure these are serious concerns. But companies that block access to social networks are missing out on incredible opportunities to expand their marketing reach, and build customer and employee loyalty.

Social networks have changed the way we communicate, discover, collaborate and connect with friends and business contacts alike. However, for many companies the benefits of social networking are not so obvious.

Herewith are just a few reasons why companies may want to think twice before blocking employees from social networks:

Deeper insights into business contacts

Social networks can tell you a lot more about an individual than any business card or email signature. Anytime you plan to meet with a new business contact you should check out the person's social networking profiles. A quick search on LinkedIn can provide you with a history of his or her professional experiences. Checking out the contact's Twitter feed can tell you what she's interested in, and a search on Facebook can highlight friends you share in common. At the end of the day, business relationships are still human relationships and the more information you know about someone can only help you forge more productive connections with people in and outside of your field.

Greater knowledge about customers

Social networks provide a great channel for customer support, research and marketing. It is very likely that someone is talking about your company, products or services on the social Web. Keeping up with the stream across Facebook, Twitter and other networks is a great way to mine for feedback and to stay up to date on the latest news and trends in any industry. For instance, we use Twitter search every day to identify potential customers, evangelists, and current users who may need support.

More open doors to connect with customers

Once you identify potential customers - or existing clients who may need support -- social networks are a great way to reach them. According to a July 2009 Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey, 90% of Americans claim to trust recommendations from their friends versus only 14% who say they trust advertisements. Social networks can make it easy for you or your employees to generate personalized referrals. ( More importantly, by establishing authentic relationships with your existing customers through social media, you will likely find them more willing to refer your company to their friends.

Keep your employees happy

Jack Welch, former Chairman of GE, was once asked "who is more important: your employees, customers or investors?"  His answer was brilliant: according to Welch, employees must always come first because happy employees are productive employees, which in turn creates happy customers, which in turn generates the healthy profits that investors love. Yet, in many business environments today, employee happiness is often not a top priority. Cutting your executives and employees off from social networks is almost insulting especially since social networking has so entrenched itself into our daily lives. So much so, that many of us don't know how to live without it. I know first hand how demeaning and frustrating it can be to have that outlet taken away from you at work. If companies truly value their employees, they should trust and treat them with respect. This is even more important today as Generation Y Americans now outnumber Baby Boomers in the workforce.

Turn every employee into a part-time marketer

Many companies have recognized the benefits of social media and have responded by creating small teams of marketing or customer support professionals whose primary function is to represent their company online. However, businesses that limit social networking to a small group of employees are really missing the boat. By giving all your employees access to their social networks, you can leverage their personal networks to expand your company's social media reach. Happy employees will share good deals and interesting news about their company. Considering that the average Facebook user has more than 150 friends, a company with just 100 employees can reach an additional 15,000 potential customers just by encouraging their employees to share special offers or good news.

Mark Schmulen is CEO of NutshellMail, a free service that enables users to aggregate, manage and interact with their social networks through email.

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