What’s stopping people using social media as a work tool?

By Milly Picton, research manager at Silverman Research

The gulf between those using social media for personal use and those using it as a work tool remains, as ever, discouragingly large. While external networks such as Facebook and Twitter are embedded in people’s lives as a means of connecting and interacting with friends and family, there are limited developments within organisations promoting employees to interact in the same way.

It is not to say these tools haven’t been developed or aren’t readily available. Far from it, there’s been a growth in recent years in internal social platforms such as Yammer and Chatter. Likewise, evidence suggests they encourage communication and collaboration between employees, and promote learning. Nevertheless, employees are failing to see their place or value within organisations.  The CIPD’s survey and report Social Technology, Social Business sheds light onto some of the factors inhibiting people’s adoption of social media as a work tool.

There is a huge difference between those who use social media for personal use (76%) and those using it for work purposes (26%).  This gulf is reflected in our views and in general people place little value in social media for work. In fact, nearly half of those surveyed strongly disagreed that they need it ‘to do my job effectively’. But why is this? We may be quick to assume that that it’s a lack of access to social media in work that is inhibiting its adoption. However, it’s unlikely this is to blame as half of employees in the UK have access to some form of social media at work, twice the amount actually utilising it.

A likely culprit may be lack of knowledge about the wider uses of social media. It is evident there is a widespread lack of understanding about how online communities can be effectively mobilised and from a practical perspective, how they can be facilitated. In addition, this is likely to be exacerbated by generational differences that are often inevitable in large organisations. The skills and enthusiasm required to adopt social media as a work tool may possibly be lacking in a workforces skewed towards older generations. Rather, a younger workforce that is comprised of ‘digital natives’ will favour such requirements.

A second factor that may be inhibiting our adoption of social media as a work tool, closely linked to a lack of knowledge, may be a fear of the unknown. In spite of the majority being active on external social media platforms, there is a definite sense of apprehension around the potential danger or threat associated with the necessary levels of transparency. This threat is only enhanced by streams of media coverage, which seem to revel in the often misleading, “Employee Fired for Twitter Outburst” headlines.

Like in real life, there is an associated risk adopting social media technologies as work tools. Power is moved from managers to employees and this inability to control the communication process while allowing for increased levels of transparency is likely to be an intimidating prospect to organisations.

These are just two potential factors that might be affecting adoption; the list goes on. There may be a lack of understanding about the resources required, a wrongly perceived lack of business case or misunderstanding of the business benefits, and fears around security, trust and employee abuse. An overarching limitation can be an unwillingness to embrace social media as a strategic approach and change the culture of the organisation.

Education and appreciation of the value and benefits will be a key factor in promoting the adoption of social media as a work tool. Rather then shying away from the ‘what if’s’, a little open-mindedness could pave the way for a more connected, interactive and dynamic workforce.

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  • Anonymous

    Interesting article. I think that as social media is relatively new many organisations simply do not know how to implement it's use.

    Often this can result in hastily written social media policy which treats social media as an evil with no validity in the workplace.

  • Hi there,

    I was just using this article for research purposes and wanted to quote the figures, however, it 76% and 26% don't work - please can we see the accurate figures?

    Many thanks,


  • Hi Angela

    I am not sure I did not write the artical however I believe they are saying that 76% of people use social media for personal use and 26% of people use social media for business use.  Meaning these are sperate figures.