Employees are at risk of information overload as social media technologies are increasingly used in the workforce, CEOs of small and medium-sized businesses heard at The Exchange 2012 conference.
Social media will increasingly replace email as the communication method of choice within organisations, delegates heard at the event in London.
But companies will need to manage social media carefully if employees are going to avoid being overloaded with social media noise.
Businesses are making a slow transition from email to other forms of communication, such as instant messaging, and corporate social media tools, such as Yammer, said Richard Edwards, principal analyst at Ovum.
Social media offers a potential solution to the distraction of email, but businesses need to think carefully about how they deploy it, he said, speaking at the conference.
“We have over 100 opinionated people in Ovum. When we introduced social media, everyone followed everyone else,” said Edwards.
The result was that useful information became lost in the general conversation.
Edwards advises people to follow topics and keywords, rather than individuals.
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Social media in a business context
Frank Joshi, CEO of social media company, MVine, said businesses need to be more focused about how they use social media.
“It's about creating the right context. The challenge with a lot of social media tools is you have to follow people and everything that they do. In the business context you don’t have the time to do that," he said.
Companies also need to think carefully about the sort of audience they want to build on social networking.
There have been cases where companies have bought followers and contacts to boost the number of followers on social media sites.
“That is a nonsense,” said Joshi. “You can build an audience, but you have to set a context and ask why you are building it.”
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Prepare for things to go awry
Companies need to gear themselves up to respond quickly on social media, if there is an unexpected crisis that affects their customers.
“When a catastrophe occurs, the public expect an immediate response," Alex Meisl, chairman of mobile marketing agency Sponge Group, told the conference.
“Corporations that embark on social media need to prepare for worst case scenarios and have a plan of action and respond immediately,” he said.
That does not mean companies should ban social media, said Edwards.
He recalled the story of one company that panicked after discovering its employees had set up an unofficial social networking site at work.
A subsequent investigation revealed there was no inappropriate content on the network, and over 400 staff had been using it to genuinely improve their productivity.
Security tools for social media
Security tools are available for social media, the meeting heard, but they are still in their infancy. They are capable, for example, of recognising keywords, or preventing people from posting credit card numbers.
Digital rights technologies can give companies control of their data on corporate social media, networks, Joshi told the meeting.
It is possible to monitor who has downloaded what, and to create a map of where particular documents have been sent.
“If a document has been updated, you can turn off the old version, and ask the person to download the new version,” he said.
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People management through social networks
Social networks can also be a useful tool for managers, said Edwards.
They can identify issues and trends in an organisation that might otherwise remain invisible. And it can show if staff feel strongly about an issue that might not otherwise be on a manager's radar.
Clive Davis, director at recruitment firm Robert Half International, said job candidates were increasingly asking about companies' social media policies.
“Now people are talking about work/life balance. In their current job they can work one or two days a week at home. And they are asking how the new organisation can communicate with them at home,” he said.
Davis said his own company was looking at alternatives to email, such as Skype TV.