Social Media in the Workplace – A Manager’s Perspective

There is no escaping it – Social Media is everywhere.

Gartner has called it one of the “4 Nexus of Forces”, including Cloud, Mobility and Big Data, which are already shaping IT users’ behaviors (The Nexus of Forces: Social, Mobile, Cloud and Information – Published: 14 June 2012).

I’ll leave it to people smarter than me to discuss whether it’s a totally disruptive force or a natural evolution in the way we communicate.

What matters to me, as a manager, is how it affects my people, my company, TODAY.

I look at social media from a number of perspectives. As a co-founder and executive of an IT Services Management (ITSM) software and services company, I am concerned with:

  • How my employees use Social Media within the company to communicate, collaborate and get work done
  • Using Social Media to engage our customers and prospects
  • Designing consulting services to assist our clients in leveraging Social Media in ITSM process design and implementation
  • Augmenting our software product to utilize Social Media for the design of both ITSM and business processes.

Social Media in the workplace

As a manager, it is very apparent that the way people communicate and collaborate at work is constantly changing, and I should know – I’ve seen a few changes over my 32 years in Information Technology and the workforce.

We went from producing “carbon copy” documents on typewriters to standalone word processors and PC’s. Interoffice communication evolved from paper “memos” and distribution lists to email and voicemail. Filing cabinets were replaced with “file shares” and SharePoint sites. Popping down the hall for a chat became text messaging. Not to mention the move to telecommuting and distributed workforces where virtual meeting tools like WebEx & GoToMeeting have become part of the daily mix.

Each of these technological changes has had a profound impact on the way people work. Some changes were for the better – others have definitely created more barriers to communication than were intended. Social Media will be no different; it is neither a panacea for all that is wrong with collaboration, nor is it something to fear.

Social Media, as a technology, has the potential to dramatically enhance our productivity as well as the downside of being totally misused or abused in the workplace.

So, I’m an old fart, what do I know about Social Media?

I only have to look at my younger employees, and to my family, to see that email and voicemail is less relevant to them than “activity timelines” like Facebook, Twitter, texting or “<insert new cool social tool here>”.

I also feel the younger members of my workforce are better at multi-tasking, and can usually be seen with their headphones on and with multiple social feeds up on their screen. Perhaps this is a result of them being raised in a highly “interrupt driven” age – or maybe their brains are just younger than mine. :)

My neighbors poke fun at me because I can always be seen walking to work with my headphones on, listening to music while typing into my iPhone. I regularly interact with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and iChat. My comfort level with Social, while not perfect, is getting better daily, but then, I was also an early adopter of the BBS (bulletin board systems) and the “pre-browser” internet.

That said, I still have to deal with large multinationals that use Lotus Notes, have a 5MB restriction on employees email and have implemented controls so tight every social app, including YouTube, is blocked. So no amount of blogging or Social Media will get their attention.

We still need to communicate effectively through traditional channels. You may get a big surprise when you find that your customer can’t access your Google Drive or attend your Google Hangout meeting.

We are still in the early stages of Social Media, and you can’t cut off one audience just for the sake of pursuing something new.

When it comes to online collaboration, I like to think our company was on the leading edge. We first implemented online workspaces in Lotus Domino and used Microsoft NetMeeting 14 years ago. We later implemented secure and encrypted peer-to-peer workspace synchronization with Groove Virtual Office – years before DropBox or Google Drive hit the scene. Today we use oxygencloud for easy to administer, secure file collaboration across all our servers, notebooks and mobile devices.

So why is this relevant? Because as an officer of the company, I am responsible for my client’s data, and I am concerned how easily it could be shared with just a single click – I need to know where the data lives, I need to know it’s secure, and I need to control who can share what, with whom. Not because I’m a control freak, but because my customers, and their compliance departments, demand it of me.

Does that mean a total lockdown on Social Media? Of course not, in fact, I have scheduled Social Media training for my employees and I’m considering BYOD (bring your own device) as an option for the company as well. It really becomes a matter of having the right policies, and setting the right controls and enforcement through technology and governance.

From an organizational change perspective, we are a small 20-person company, but I still sense reluctance amongst many of my staff to go Social.

One of my top, and most productive employees, doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile, a twitter ID or a Facebook page and I wouldn’t trade that person for anyone. On the other hand, perhaps some of my employees are too distracted by the “Social Noise”.

When it comes to an employee’s worth, I really don’t believe it should be measured by a KLOUT score or the number of LinkedIn endorsements they have. Not every employee needs to be the next Gary Vaynerchuk (a Social Media icon) to add value!

There is another aspect to Social Media that manager’s worry about. It’s when free speech conflicts with the values of the company. We’ve all seen examples of that in the media, a sports star or celebrity chastised for what they said on twitter or Facebook. The best solution for this, in my opinion, starts with education and establishing guidelines on what can be posted through the company’s channels. I believe in free speech and that an employee can say whatever they want on their own Social Media networks, but common sense should prevail. Publically denigrating your company or work associates will probably impact your career – whether you like it of not.

As a manager, I can’t forget that people adjust to change at different speeds. Like most organizational changes, Social Media adoption can be illustrated as a bell-curve, there will be some on the bleeding edge, some that are competent, others dipping their toes in for the first time, and many (perhaps more than you may know) who are fearful.

Social Media is already affecting our workplaces. It is our responsibility as managers and leaders to help our colleagues realize the benefits through a smooth transition.

Social Media to engage customers and prospects

We are living in an age of information overload. Emails, phone calls, voicemails and meetings – it’s a wonder we ever get anything done.

We have developed mechanisms for controlling the influx of information. In short, we “call screen”. We only let in what we want to let in or what we seek out to learn.

As a company we have relied heavily on telemarketing, email marketing, conferences and advertising. But as a consumer, I ignore calls from telemarketers, flag marketing email as spam and complain after I receive dozens of calls after a conference. I’m sure most of you do as well.

So how does a company with a limited marketing budget get the word out? As a small company, word of mouth has always been a good source of leads. Do a good job for one client and people talk about it.

Social media, combined with the techniques of inbound marketing, help people find you and get them talking about you.

Even though we are a small company of 20 people, the combined social network of our employees is in the millions, with most of them working in our target market.

By creating and sharing compelling material across the combined social network of our employees we can potentially reach a significant number of prospects with our message – provided the message resonates with the target audience.

This content, if managed correctly, will actually increase our presence on Google and other search engines. People interested in our message will “opt in” and allow our messages through their screening mechanisms.

The result is that we start engaging people interested in who we are and what we do. They become “friends” who visit us at tradeshows, read our content, attend our webinars and refer us to their friends, thus expanding our network.

From a business perspective, it’s always easier to engage someone interested in your message rather than bothering someone with a “cold call”.

Anyway, that is the theory. We have a plan that we are working, and metrics to measure results. I’ll talk more about that in a follow-up article.

Social Media in our software product and services

As a founder and officer of an ITSM Software and Services company, I also have the responsibility to help guide our clients through the adoption of Social Media.

It is important that we design and deliver services that can help organizations leverage Social Media within their ITSM programs. Not only from how they take advantage of it within their ITSM tools, but how they mentor and coach their employees in order to achieve the maximum benefits.

I’m not talking about the 20% – the early adopters. I’m talking about the majority of our clients who may still be struggling with the concept of Social Media in their ITSM program.

Within an ITSM program, Social Media can be used to solicit ideas and bubble (like) good ones to the top. It can be used to collaborate on the design of new processes and solutions or to provide feedback on existing ones.

Social media can augment traditional Incident and Change Management processes by allowing “case like” exchange of information. Users can subscribe or “follow” systems that they are interested in and see a real-time flow of information related to current incidents and upcoming changes. The possibilities are really endless.

Benefits exist outside of the company as well. Engaging with your customers and prospects on the social networks can help you detect incidents (complaints) or advise folks of resolutions or upcoming changes. Mature organizations can integrate this feed into their traditional ITSM processes and take Service Management to the next level.

As the author of a BPM (Business Process Management) tool for Service Management programs, we need to socially enable our product, not because it’s the latest fad, but because it’s a better way to engage users in the design and governance of IT or Business processes.

We are not interested in building stagnant processes that sit on a shelf, but in creating dynamic processes that are shaped through the social interaction with the users. This is the long-term vision for our product.


Social Media isn’t a trend or fad, it is the next evolution in the way we communicate and collaborate at work — but like any new technology there are positives and negatives associated with it, and making something Social doesn’t always make it better.

Anyone looking at adopting Social Media in their organizations must:

• Understand the ramifications on their employees and help lead them through the change via education and support
• Develop the policies, processes and controls to effectively implement Social Media into their organization
• Select and implement technology that both enables Social Media while simultaneously protecting the organization’s reputation and data

From my perspective as a manager, entrepreneur, business owner and product architect, I couldn’t be more excited by the prospect of Social Media. However, I also realize that like all new technology, it has it pros and cons, and the implementation can’t be left to chance.

Personally, well I’m a Gemini – “the twins” – one side of me says “bring it on” while the other cautions me to “do it right”…

What are your thoughts on Social Media in the Workplace?
David Mainville

David Mainville

David Mainville, CEO and co-founder of Navvia, is a passionate advocate of Service Management and a frequent presenter, blogger and well known member of the ITSM community. With over 35 years of experience, David has held progressively senior technical and management roles allowing him to “connect the dots” between the Business and IT. At Navvia, David leads the charge to bring innovative ITSM solutions to market focusing on Product Development, Marketing and Operations.

• Posted by David Mainville on Nov 26, 2012
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