Cross-posted from Stop Blocking.
Social media as a marketing mechanism is clearly hot. I can't scan my feeds without finding yet another report of yet another study detailing companies' increased commitment to and investment in social media. Here are just a few:
- eMarketer reports on an The Aberdeen Group study that found 63% of companies planned to increase their social media marketing budgets in 2009. Twenty-one percent were set to boost their budgets by more than 25%. And worldwide social media advertising was expected to grow 17.3% this year to $2.35 billion.
- A study from the Association of National Advertisers revealed that 66% of marketers have used social media in some capacity this year, with Facebook being tapped by 74% of them, YouTube by 65%, and Twitter by 63%.
- Twitter is the social media channel of choice among Fortune 100 companies, according to a Burson-Marsteller study, which found 54% of these organizations active on Twitter, compared with 32% using blogs and 29% with active Facebook fan pages.
- There is a correlation between financial performance and engagement in social media among the world's top brands, according to a study conducted by Altimeter Group and WetPaint. Simply stated, socially engaged companies are more financially successful.
- And most recently, a study from SNCR, Deloitte, and Beeline Labs released just the other day reports that 94% of respondents said that they plan to maintain or increase investment in their online communities. The investment pays off, they said, in word of mouth, customer loyalty, brand awareness, idea generation, and improved quality of customer support.
The fact that businesses are seeing tangible benefits from social media explains why investment continues to rise among most companies, even when budget belts are being tightened. Driving these results is the that comes from real people connecting with each another in spaces where they share mutual interests. Companies are smart enough to know that (according to research) customers want the companies with which they do business should be present in these spaces.
So it is all the more confounding that these very same companies won't let their own employees engage on these sites.
As reported here and elsewhere, a survey of CIOs found that 54% of companies block all employees from visiting any social sites. It's deliciously ironic that 54% is exactly the same percentage of Fortune 100 companies that are active on Twitter.
If companies block their employees from engaging, who do they think their fan pages and Twitter accounts are attracting? Think about it. If every company prohibited employees from visiting Facebook, then the only time anybody could visit the company Facebook fan page would be when they're not at work. Given the hours most companies require of their employees, that's not a heck of a lot of time to interact with customers.
What's more, if the fan pages of those 54% of companies are being viewed by employees from the 46% of companies that still allow some kind of access, none of the companies' employees are able to interact with those visitors. They can't. They've been blocked.
American Airlines announced just the other day that it's launching BlackAtlas.com, a travel-focused social network for African Americans. According to one report, "The site will feature discussion boards and blogs on which users can share pictures, video and travel stories and tips, along with rating and recommending businesses and travel destinations."
I don't know whether American Airlines allows its own employees to visit social sites, but with more than half of companies in the blocking camp, odds are American's own black employees will be barred from a site where they could interact with BlackAtlas.com members and personify the airline's culture.
Gartner, in fact, projects that 60% of the Fortune 1000 will host online communities by 2010 so they can gain information from their customer base "which can be used for short-and long-term customer relationships," according to Garner researcher Adam Sarner.
Employees at more than half of them, though, are not allowed.
Organizations need to think more like Dell, which realized its roadblock to Facebook made no sense when it launched a green initiative on the social networking site so employees could engage and participate.
The presumption of most companies blocking access is that employees are being unproductive, wasting time. In fact, the lines have blurred so much that even an employee spending a few minutes online to take a break from work could wind up having an interaction that benefits the company.
How have your non-work social interactions wound up serving your organization?