When a new technology emerges, humans respond in one of two ways: resist or embrace.
Resistance came when Gutenberg launched his printing press in around
1436. Foreseeing a more empowered populous, the Roman Catholic Church
investigated whether the invention could be licensed to control the
inevitable expression which would be unleashed. 15th Century nobles
refused to pollute their private libraries with printed volumes. Yet,
within 30 years and despite this initial resistance, hundreds of
European towns had a Gutenberg press and freer expression had secured a
stronger footing. Resistance was futile. The population embraced the
Similar stories are found as advancements in communications arrived, from printing press to telegram to fax and to email.
Today, those in the first decade of their employment use email out of
necessity than preference. They see emails as dated, faxes as museum
curiosities and telegrams as footnotes in antiquity. All of them were
about sending messages. Social media feels more like visiting your
friend or colleague on their virtual home turf.
Social media is today’s Gutenberg press. Yet the same human urge to
resist lingers. Never is this more evident than in Australian workplaces
where employers grapple with technologically comfortable and networked
employees. Corporations have come to be wary of a young buck with an
iPhone and an Internet connection. They want to retain control over the
public discourse about their products, services and reputation. No
company wants to see their own staff defaming each other in social
media. Nor do they relish a kind of virtual sexual harassment between
employees over the Internet. Employers dislike that team members
identify their company on social media, only to have recruiters poach
them. Having your corporate reputation slammed by disgruntled former
employees aided by the courage sitting behind a screen provides.
Enthusiastic, otherwise top performers have inadvertently blogged
competitive secrets. On social media, morale-damaging gossip can be
found lurking in every dark corner.
Resistance to social media is therefore understandable. Block
Facebook. Eliminate Twitter. Tolerate LinkedIn. Strengthen employment
agreements. Implement a No-Use Policy.
However, despite all its difficulties, resistance is
counter-productive and a waste of time. Social media is as mainstream a
tool as the telephone. According to comScore’s latest study, 81.6% of
Australian internet users are on social networking sites. This is a
dramatic 26% increase in the 12 months since April 2010. Only search
engines, like Google and Yahoo, enjoy greater participation at 89.9%. As
if to prove the decline of email, 61.7% of internet users bother with
And which social media sites are in vogue? Australians spend 305
minutes per month on Facebook.com, 16 minutes on Twitter.com, 12 on
LinkedIn.com, 12 on MySpace and 4 on Windows Live Profile. Social media
is a Facebook phenomenon.
So what can social media do for business? Well, for one thing,
employees learn very quickly about accountability. They gain lessons far
quicker than earlier generations that they are responsible for what
they publish. In the digital age, everyone is a publisher. Further,
recruitment becomes a far purer exercise. My businesses employ job
titles not readily pigeon-holed in the drop-down menus of seek.com.au.
Imagine our delight to discover highly concentrated online groups of
these job titles, veritable bee-hives of activity and creativity. In my
time as a proprietor, I’ve seen the decline of classifieds, the rise and
decline of job ad websites, and the emergence of social media for
recruitment purposes. Additionally, these social media sub-groups are
mini-learning centres of excellence. One can easily gain insights into
new industry developments. These are the office water-coolers and
village squares of the digital age. Social media is also a great source
of competitive intelligence, marketing channels and lead generation.
Like the Gutenberg press, telegrams, fax and email before it,
embracing social media into your workplace will benefit you far more
than any passing challenges.