What is the importance and benefits of social media for business? This essay aims to answer the question. It focuses on the advantages, disadvantages, and role of social media on business communication.
Baker, Buoni, Fee, and Vitale (2014) define social networking as “an interconnected system through which alliances are formed, help is obtained, information is transmitted, and actions taken to achieve certain results” (p. 1). Social networking platforms have revolutionized how people do business today. Some common social networking platforms include Linkedin, MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook. The pervasiveness of social media in modern-day corporate environment has prompted many organisations to embrace the platform as customer-business interaction forums (Stollak, Vandenberg, Felhofer, & Sutherland, 2014).
Some modern businesses use social media tools merely because it is the “in-thing” and because their competitors are using them (Farooq, Jan, & Karachi, 2012). Undoubtedly, social media could offer many benefits to its users, but such benefits could be elusive if companies and users do not understand the intricacies surrounding its adoption.
This paper critically analyses social media use in the corporate space, based on how it affects the relationship between job seekers, employees, and organisations alike. From this background, this paper argues that although social media use has its challenges, its advantages outweigh its disadvantages. To understand this argument, it is, first, important to comprehend the benefits of social media use for the job seeker, employee, and the organisation.
Benefits of Social Media for Business
From the Job Seeker’s Viewpoint
Many researchers have pointed out the direct correlation between employment, a poor mental health status, and decreased personal satisfaction (Mathis & Jackson, 2011; Borough, 2015). This is why people always seek new jobs and effective ways of changing their employment status. They often look for traditional sources of information, such as newspapers and radio to get new jobs (Borough, 2015). However, recently, the number of people who are seeking jobs through social networking has increased (Mathis & Jackson, 2011).
Although few studies have investigated the benefits of social media on job seekers, the social networking theory explains the structure and composition of social networking behaviours among job seekers (Caliendo, Schmidl, & Uhlendorff, 2010). To expound on the contribution of the social networking theory to the job seeking process, Caliendo et al. (2010) say the theory plays a significant role in explaining the relationship between different actors within a social network. It also explains the relationship between job search and employment outcomes.
Based on this background, Stollak et al. (2014) say job opportunities that emerge through social networking sites have a higher impact on job seekers, compared to those that emerge through other search platforms. Through these social networks, Stollak et al. (2014) find that most job seekers develop social capital by creating an online presence and developing new social networks this way. They also associate social capital with innovation, performance and the ability for these job seekers to secure new employment opportunities (Stollak et al., 2014).
Other studies have associated social capital with the survival of groups and organisations (Mathis & Jackson, 2011; Borough, 2015). Formalist arguments show that the social networking structure often improves the effectiveness of new job seekers to secure new employment opportunities (improve the effectiveness of networking behaviour) (Stollak et al., 2014).
Seminal research studies have affirmed the benefits of social networks to job seekers by showing that 44% of workers in America got their jobs through social networking sites (Caliendo et al., 2010). The same studies have shown that more than 34% of German workers secured their jobs through social networking sites (Caliendo et al., 2010).
From the Employee’s Viewpoint
Butterfield (2009) says many employees have acknowledged the benefits of social media through personal brand development. Baker et al. (2014) define a personal brand as “the marketing of one’s self through Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn.” (p. 5). Many professionals use the same platforms to inform their followers about their ongoing projects (Baker et al., 2014). Some of them use the same platform to engage their followers on ongoing projects.
For example, many musicians have often used such social networking sites (mostly MySpace) to engage with audiences who would otherwise not have gained access to their music through other platforms (Baker et al., 2014). Nonetheless, professional online networking platforms, such as Linkedin provide customers with many web-based tools for building their personal profiles and build their knowledge bases from industry news. In summary, Nadaraja and Yazdanifard (2014) say social media networks are beneficial to employees because they help them to “to re-connect with past contacts, discover inside connections when looking for a new job, or a new business opportunity, and receive advice from industry experts” (p. 5).
From the Organisation’s Viewpoint
Social media platforms have broken down traditional barriers to communication. Instead, they have allowed companies to interact with their target audiences easily, effectively and in real-time. Furthermore, social media allows companies to reach audiences that they would have otherwise not have reached because of temporal or location limitations associated with traditional distribution channels (Nadaraja & Yazdanifard, 2014). Indeed, social networking platforms reduce the communication time between companies and their customers, thereby making it possible for employees and organisations to complete their work faster. Social media marketing also has significantly lower advertisement costs compared to other forms of traditional marketing, such as television, print media and radio.
Nadaraja and Yazdanifard (2014) say this is why many companies strive to redirect their customer traffic to their social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. Researchers have also found out that social media platforms allow companies to provide a lot of information to their customers (more than they would in other traditional marketing platforms).
Research also shows that social media helps to improve productivity in the workplace. Such assertions stem from the works of Nadaraja and Yazdanifard (2014) who found out that most employees who spend less than 20% of their office time on social media are likely to be 9% more productive than those who do not participate in social media activities. The logic behind this assertion is the rest that social media use brings to the mind. This rest improves employee concentration, thereby leading to increased productivity (Nadaraja & Yazdanifard, 2014).
Social media networks also benefit organisations through efficient hiring practices (Flynn, Mathis, Jackson, & Valentine, 2015). For example, social media networks allow HR managers to look beyond the paper resume and know more about a potential candidate. In fact, studies have shown that most organisations could know more about a candidate this way as opposed to relying on printed CVs only (Flynn et al., 2015).
This way, employers would know more about a candidate by having an overview of their personality, academic qualifications, and professional acumen. Furthermore, they could get a lot of information about a candidate, such as work sampled and social interactions, through social media. Collectively, these issues highlight the benefits of social media.
Negative Impact of Social Media on Business
From the Job Seeker’s Viewpoint
Although this paper has shown that social media could be useful to job seekers, the quality of information obtained through this platform could be dubious (Schmitt, 2012). This challenge could undermine the effectiveness of social networks in improving the job search process. This concern stems from research studies that have argued that the quality of social network information depends on the quality of people present in the network (Schmitt, 2012). For example, the employment status of people within such a network correlates with the employment status of people within these networks.
Privacy concerns are also pressing issues for job seekers, when using social media platforms, because many companies often “investigate” prospective employees before hiring them, or calling them for an interview (Hugo, 2015). In fact, some companies ask job seekers about their private information, such as email addresses and cell phone numbers before recruiting them (Hugo, 2015). Recently, Farooq et al. (2012) did a study to investigate the views of job seekers about privacy infringements by companies. The pie chart below shows their findings, when they were asked if they had concerns about companies asking them for private information
From the above findings, most respondents registered their frustrations about privacy and confidentiality infringements through social media.
From the Employee’s Viewpoint
Reduced work productivity is the most common disadvantage of social media (Farooq et al., 2012). This outcome emerges from endless periods of surfing on the net while the employees could use the same time to engage in productive workplace activities (Farooq et al., 2012). However, there is contention regarding the amount of time employees have to spend on social media to be unproductive.
While some researchers argue that social media use could significantly reduce the number of productive hours, others believe that this outcome could suffice only if employees spend more than 20% of their time on social media (Farooq et al., 2012). Privacy is another disadvantage of social media networks (to employees). This is a perennial problem that has not only affected employees, but also job seekers alike (Flynn, 2012). Many companies have taken measures to protect users’ privacy rights, but they still cannot guarantee 100% privacy.
Furthermore, most of the privacy tools used in many social networking sites (today) only border on protecting users’ information on their profiles and Newsfeeds (Vanessa, 2012). Studies by Pride, Hughes, and Kapoor (2013) also show that social media activities in an organisation could hurt employee relations. For example, some employees could bully others by mocking them on social media, or sending them negative messages.
Similarly, an employee may innocently post a message about his/her experience at work and another employee relays the same message to the manager/supervisor and creates tension in the organisation. Similarly, Pride et al. (2013) say social media communications offer employees an opportunity to talk secretly, thereby leading to “on-line time wasting.”
From the Organisation’s viewpoint
Social media use in the workplace could potentially lead to potential breaches in workplace protocol, especially if organisations do not pay attention to privacy and confidentiality issues. For example, there are cases where workers have inadvertently posted confidential company information to the public (Vanessa, 2012). Victims of such acts have often “paid the price” through tarnished company images, or monetary losses. Companies have also suffered through decreased competitive positions, especially if the information posted by an employee goes to a wrong person (Pride et al., 2013).
Companies could also suffer a negative image if they allow employees to post information about a company and intentionally (or otherwise), an employee posts negative information about the organisation. This is why many companies prefer to have a central communication centre that filters all information communicated to the public (Flynn, 2012).
Discussion: Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media in Business
Despite some of the advantages of social media (highlighted in this paper), evidence shows that many employers have concerns about the use of social media in their workplaces. This is why some of them have blocked some social networking sites from their employees. However, all indications show that they cannot avoid the social media movement. As an alternative to avoid the use of social media, this paper argues that organisations, employees and job seekers should exploit the benefits of social media and minimise its drawbacks.
This way, they would improve communications between organisations, job seekers and employees and realise the benefits of improved productivity, without overworking their employees. Similarly, they would attract the best talents through social media adoption. However, for businesses to exploit the advantages of social media (fully) in the workplace, they need to have a policy governing social media interaction. This recommendation stems from increased concerns about social media use in the workplace and the need to separate personal and business interests when interacting with job seekers, employees, or other organisations. However, the blurred line between personal and professional interests in social media is likely to persist and because it changes, it is difficult to predict its outcome.
This paper has investigated the advantages and disadvantages of social media use from three perspectives – employee, job seeker, and organisations. These entities could benefit from positive social media adoption, but they need to be aware of the potential pitfalls of its adoption. As a first line of defence, this paper proposes the formulation of a social media policy to govern interactions in the workplace. However, interested parties should customise their policies based on their personal circumstances.
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