Struggling With Social Media: Study Finds Middle Managers Bear the Brunt

By | Nov 27, 2012

Mid-level managers bear the brunt of social media problems, according to the findings of a new IBM study. Despite increased budgets and executive interest, making social technology a part of day-to-day life in an organization is no easy task. But with forecasts of 61-percent growth in the enterprise social app space through to 2016, this isn't an area midsize companies - and IT pros - can afford to ignore. So how do businesses make the most of social interaction, and get the best return on their investment?

Socially Concerning

Although 46 percent of companies surveyed in the IBM study increased their social technology investments through 2012, a recent CIO Today article discussing the findings notes only 22 percent felt managers were prepared to fully incorporate social tools. Two-thirds also said they were unsure about the impact social media would have on their business over the next three years.

According to Kevin Custis, a vice president at IBM's Global Business Services, "businesses are struggling to make sense of the vast amount of data generated from social networks." He further argues that to truly embrace a social technology, companies must educate managers in its use and stress the need for full support across all organizational boundaries. In many cases this burden falls on IT admins, at least insofar as making sure social tools are available to all users, all the time and managing access permissions for those tools.

In part, admins are tasked with creating outward-facing networks that engage customers and at the very least must work with social development teams to ensure smooth rollouts. But one task often overlooked in a social strategy is the need for connecting employees within company walls. While executives wonder if too much talking means not enough working, if done right, social engagement among workers offers substantive benefits.

So Long, Silo

An article at The Australian talks about the efforts of financial firm Deloitte to incorporate employee-side social tools, most notably Yammer. Peter Williams, former chief executive officer for Deloitte Digital in Australia, says "The individuals who used Yammer more, felt they were part of something bigger and felt really connected to the organization." These groups, he said, tended to have higher revenue growth, higher profit, and lower staff turnover. In other words, letting employees talk meant better totals for the company.

The goal of social apps - Yammer, Facebook, Twitter, to name a few - is connection, something customers now expect. But this same connection can be used to tear down business "silos" by enabling employees in differing departments or even global offices to engage in meaningful discourse. The risk, of course, is that communication becomes a burden instead of a boon, and this where middle managers often find themselves challenged; moderation is one key to social success, which means regulation. But too much and it starts to look draconian; too little, and social forums can rapidly degenerate.

For IT admins now finding themselves not just implementing but managing social media solutions, both IBM's recent study and Deloitte's example offer help. Social, silo-free culture emerges through consistency and ubiquity, but just like any other piece of technology, it can't be left to its own devices. Professional human oversight remains a crucial component of ROI.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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