Social Media Is Already Disrupting the Workplace. Here’s How.

Can you believe it’s been 12 years since Facebook’s official launch? Social media has been around for a while now. By some counts, more than 2 billion people — more than a quarter of the world’s population — use some form of social media. Worldwide adoption is growing by 25% per year, an absolutely insane clip given the size of the numbers involved.

Here in the U.S., most individuals have a Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram account. Maybe all four. Maybe more.

The Business Case for Social Media

For businesses and public organizations, the social ship has long since sailed. SocialTimes (via eMarketer) reported that about 9 in 10 U.S. brands were active on social media in 2014, and adoption continues to inch up.

For the vast majority of American companies, nonprofit entities and public agencies, social is no longer optional,” says Rosemary Plorin, principal at Lovell Communications, a Nashville-based public relations and crisis communications firm specializing in healthcare and public policy. “Social media is essential for organizations that want to remain top of mind with — and responsive to the needs of — their constituents.”

At this point, organizations that don’t use social media either operate in isolated, uncompetitive niches that are immune to the laws of traditional B2B or B2C marketing, or simply lack the internal resources or expertise to set up and manage social accounts.

As the business case for social media solidifies, it’s worth asking whether — and how — social media is disrupting the way work actually gets done. Per Fast Company, there’s ample evidence that this disruption is already in progress. If the recent past is any indication, the pace of said disruption is likely to accelerate in the coming years. In the not-too-distant future, the white-collar workplace could be virtually unrecognizable — thanks in large part to social media. Here’s a look at how the workplace is changing with the social times.

1. Employee Social Advocacy Is the Real Deal

Employees, on and off the clock, are increasingly viewed as a major social marketing asset. Pardot reports that employee social advocacy incentive programs have grown by nearly 200% over the past three years, complementing the social media management/marketing teams now embedded at four in five (and growing) private companies nationwide. Employee social advocacy is effective because prospects are more likely to trust marketing messaging broadcast from within their own social networks — even if the content of that messaging is functionally equivalent to external messaging.

2. Social Messaging Is About to Blow Up

You’ve probably heard of Slack, the innovative messaging app that’s slowly chipping away at email’s unholy dominance of the workplace. Slack and its ilk may finally have picked the lock to the uneasy detente between individualistic social platforms and buttoned-up workplace applications. If they keep it up, expect the white-collar workplace to resemble the coffee shop (or happy hour lounge) before long.

3. Social Media Platforms Are Bending to Corporate Demands

Originally a venue for individual expression, social media is more and more a means of corporate outreach. Every week brings news of a business-friendly social shift: LinkedIn going “Pro” (okay, that was a while ago), Twitter debating its 140 character limit, Snapchat selling out with promoted snaps. The social-business synergy is only going to grow over time — and, with it, the cost of social engagement for businesses. Plan accordingly.

4. Social Video Is a Huge Bandwidth Driver

The average adult consumes more than an hour of online video per day, much of it accessed through social channels. Video now hogs the lion’s share of total online bandwidth. And individual social platforms each account for billions of daily views: Facebook just hit 8 billion, and Snapchat’s not far behind with 6 billion. As young workers grow accustomed to consuming video as a matter of course, they’re likely to bring the habit into the workplace, changing forever the way information and ideas are shared between colleagues.

What’s Next for Workplace Social Media?

A decade from now, the distinction between “social media” and “media media” is going to be blurry at best. It probably won’t exist at all, at least in any meaningful sense. Given the scale of the disruption set to happen between now and the second half of the 2020s, some or all of the trends described above are likely to be beside the point before long. That’s bound to give folks who are paid to think about workplace social media (and social media marketing) the fits, but it’s sure exciting (okay, and a little scary) for the rest of us.

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