The emerging importance of social media was not one that has taken the corporate world by surprise. By empowering people with the sensibility that their voice matters and can make a difference, social media technologies have altered forever how people communicate and the way companies conduct their business. The success of Web 2. 0 lies primarily in the network effects which creates a sense of community.
With the implementation of effective social media strategies, many global brands have won the hearts of their customers simply through staying connected and relevant. As such, this essay will explore how social media when managed strategically in an organisation, can be used to improve its ability to share knowledge across space and time, support innovation, aid problem solving and build social capital. Some case studies of organisations excelling through their social media platform will be discussed and evaluated.
It must be noted however, that social media in all of its glory can act as a double edged sword when it is not used appropriately. Improving knowledge sharing Knowledge could be defined as ‘actionable information’ that allows one to make a more informed decision and provide an effective input to conversations and innovation at organisation levels (Jashapara, 2011). It enables one to act more effectively and aid in the ability to better predict future outcomes. A major challenge in organisations today is fostering a knowledge sharing culture.
Whereby explicit knowledge is somewhat easy to codify and stored, the sharing of tacit knowledge remains rather equivocal. Through communities of practice which connects people through shared mutual interest and expertise in a specific discipline, organisations are now able to foster the kind of knowledge sharing culture they aspire (Burk, 1999). These social and professional networks create a virtual platform for employees to share relevant experiences and best practices, as well as identify knowledge gaps in their learning.
As the ‘bite-size’ information is now readily accessible, learning and knowledge sharing becomes more convenient and easily assimilated. Yammer, an enterprise social networking tool is used by over 200,000 companies and more than 80% of Fortune 500 companies for internal communications and knowledge sharing (Customer Success). Launched in 2008, it drew inspiration from Facebook and Twitter where it features social networking as well as mircroblogging with a secure and private network.
Designed for company collaboration, file sharing and exchange of knowledge and information with other users within their organisation or pre-designated groups, Yammer has successfully removed geographical barriers and creates immense knowledge sharing opportunities. It is imperative to note that there are two internal cultural forces that impacts learning and effectiveness in organisations (Jashapara, 2011). In an organisation culture with strong forces of cooperation, it is an ideological organisation where employees are more inclined to share knowledge and expertise.
Conversely, if the forces of competition are dominant, it may create silos mentality whereby there is unwillingness to share knowledge in order to gain a competitive advantage (Holst & Fields, 2010). Despite having the various technologies in place for knowledge sharing, there must be interpersonal trust between employees in order to facilitate the exchange of knowledge (Lucas, 2005). Affect-based trust which is built on mutual care and concern between employees is a predominant factor as to one’s willingness to share tacit organisation knowledge.
It is found that individuals who were friends were more inclined to share personal and tacit knowledge with one another (Epsein, 2000). The tacit knowledge transfer is characterized by interpersonal relationship as well as long-standing working relationship which will motivate an individual to act in ways that benefit the other (Smedlund, 2008). Hence, with trust and a culture to share, the silo mentality of an organisation will be diminished and they will reap the benefits of knowledge sharing. Supporting innovation
Innovation is the ongoing process of discovering new products for the customers or improving work process and efficiencies (Jashapara, 2011). It is no longer a question whether an organisation should pursue innovation but rather, it is a prerequisite for achieving a competitive advantage and success in many industries today. Innovation spurs motivation and efficiency within an organisation and though effective innovation management, it can increase market share through existing markets and capture new markets as well (Potecea & Cebuc, 2010).
Customer experience will be enhanced with improved product quality and with wide range of choices made available to them. Innovation prevails in organisations with flexible and adaptive structure, a culture of trust and knowledge sharing and led by a committed management team who are motivated to promote organisation learning (Dasgupta & Gupta, 2009). Through the use of effective social media strategies, an organisation now has more platforms share ideas, gather feedback and innovate on product offerings and customer experience.
One prime example is Starbucks’ own version of a social network portal, ‘My Starbucks Idea’ where it is an avenue for customer to share their own Starbucks related ideas (My Starbucks Idea). Inaugurated in 2008, it leverages on desire for engagement and interaction in social network by giving users the ability to share and vote for ideas and check on the outcomes of their suggestions. Through this platform, Starbucks is able to hear directly from their customers and act upon the ideas thereby cultivating and creating great consumer value and community. My Starbucks Idea’ is complemented with Starbucks Blog, ‘Ideas in Action’ which features contributions by various Starbucks employees who shares on the implementation of the ideas given by users through the ‘My Starbucks Idea’ site (Ideas In Action). Ultimately, through the use of social media, Starbucks is clearly prioritising their communication with customers and this creates an even greater sense of loyalty to know that their ideas are valued and implemented.
It gives customers the empowerment to be involved in part of the decision making process and the ability to shape the future of Starbucks. Aid problem solving The emergence of problem-finding and problem-solving approach highlights the importance of identifying problems to solve, seizing opportunities and overcoming the challenges in organisations (Nickerson, Yen, & Mahoney, 2012). Through the multiple channels of social media, organisations can now connect with customers and hear first hand of their experiences and address problems instantaneously.
A good example of an organisation leveraging on social media to aid problem solving is Best Buy, the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer (About Best Buy). Through the years, they have provided customers with exceptional choice, unbiased advice and trusted support for their technology needs. Galvanised by the influence and power of social media, Best Buy created a feed on Twitter called Twelpforce to provide solutions for customers (Dunn, 2010). Those who are having technical problems are able to post it on Twelpforce and a team of Best Buy associates or other Twitter users can post solutions or suggestions.
By monitoring the feeds, Best Buy’s management are able to hear unbiased customers’ feedback on their products and assist them in real time. Twelpforce also presents the opportunity for new sales as individual choices are largely influenced and made on the recommendations and advocacy of others (Cunningham, 2012). Electronic word of mouth is especially powerful as the people in an individual’s social network are usually deemed as a trustworthy source of information (Curran, O’Brien, & O’Hara, 2011).
Through Twitter and other social media platforms, Best Buy demonstrates their commitment to rejuvenate and refine their customer experience, and at the same time, drives value and innovation to create a more positive and connecting world. Building Social Capital Social capital refers to the active connections and network of relationships between people: the trust, mutual understanding and shared values which binds them together and facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit (Cohen & Prusak, 2002).
It is the glue that promotes knowledge exchange and innovation hence, an essential strategy for organisations to gain competitive advantage in the markets which they operate. However, the development of social capital does not relegate the importance of investing in human capital in organisations (Cummingham, 2002). Huppi and Seemann (2001) phrased it appropriately that “human capital resides in the people; social capital resides in the relationships among them”.
Using social media, organisations can connect with each other more readily and establish a network of community and relationships without any geographical boundaries. This is exemplified by Accenture, a global consulting and technology services and outsourcing company with circa 259,000 employees (About Accenture). They have created a Knowledge Exchange that is integrated with thousands of communities of practice which enables geographically and spatially dispersed employees to share ideas and collaborate more effectively.
Residing on a Microsoft SharePoint platform, it features a wide social network with “people profiles” with biographies, photos and resumes as well as individual’s interests and skill sets. The Exchange also contains blogs, wikis, market insights and e-learning where sharing ideas and knowledge is evident and encouraged. Through The Exchange, company research revealed positively that there was a 42 percent increase in employees’ engagement and collaboration activities.
Top collaborators are recognised with “celebrating performance points” and rewarded with badges that appear on their people profiles (Zielinski, 2012). Risks of Social Media With the many positive benefits of using social media in organisations, there are inherent risks involved when it is not managed effectively. One risk organisations face on social media platforms is the sharing of information. While it is a good medium for employees to share knowledge and ideas, it could be misused when confidential information and intellectual property are leaked.
Most employees are aware of the implications of responding unthinkingly to emails however, the same degree of care and forethought are not always applied to social media sites. Thus, there is a danger that an individual may divulge confidential information mindlessly without realising that it is cast in stone and stored online indefinitely (Everett, 2010). While the decision to post videos, photos, thoughts and experiences on social networking site is entirely personal and “private”, a single act can spark a fire and create far reaching unimaginable consequences for an individual as well as organisations.
A passing comment could end up being misinterpreted and a thoughtless prank filmed could easily go viral online affecting the reputation and profits of a company. An infamous example is the Domino’s Pizza debacle in 2009 whereby two Domino’s employees posted unappetizing videos on YouTube. The gross act of tampering with food damaged the company’s reputation severely and cut into nationwide profits. The only saving grace in this debacle is the company CEO, Patrick Doyle who posted another video in response and gave a well-worded apology and took full responsibility.
Apart from the risks involving employee’s improper use of social media, social media presents an opportunity for disgruntled customers and competitors to assail a company’s reputation and start a public relations crisis. Instead of a traditional complaint email viewed only internally, unhappiness about a particular product or service standards can be viewed by potentially everyone in the world through social media. This is aggravated by the sharing functions on social media sites like Facebook whereby one may share another person’s unpleasant experience with their ocial contacts even though it may not have affected him. ‘United Breaks Guitars’, a YouTube video created by Dave Carroll in July 2009 is an example of how a customer can use social media to voice his unhappiness.
In the song he blamed United Airlines for breaking the neck of his $3,500 guitar, caused by careless baggage handling and unreasonable policies. As the claim did not occur within the standard 24-hour time frame, it was deemed ineligible. 50,000 views were generated just within 1 day and it grew to 8 million by March 2010. It currently has more than 12 million views with popular shows like ‘The Checkout’ on ABC featuring it. Even though United Airlines did finally offered a $3,000 compensation for the damage made to his guitar, the damage done to the reputation and public relations of United Airlines is estimated to have cost them $180,000 within four days of the song been published. Another risk associated with social media is malware and account security.
With most of the time spent on social networking sites, it makes their users ideal malware targets. Typical attacks take advantage on the trust relationships between users and their social contacts and try to trick users into giving up sensitive information which can be exploited for financial gain (Everett, 2010). By clicking on links sent by trusted friends, one might be susceptible to malware infection from drive-by downloads which steals information and might give attacker total access and control of the computer.
This is especially disastrous for organisation whereby confidential information and trade secrets may be infringed. By not engaging in social media could be a risk in itself for organisations as nowadays most brands and companies are being discussed online. It is essential for an organisation to have a voice in these conversations, monitor and react timely to negative comments. With the risks involved, an organisation should develop a sound corporate policy on the usage of social media and educate employees of the role they play.
The IT department needs to regularly update it security protection and firewall to mitigate any malware attacks or unsecure networks. Conclusion Social media presents a wonderful opportunity for organisations to leverage and share knowledge with each other despite geographical boundaries. With effective management, it promotes social capital where trust relationships can be built and creates a platform of engagement and collaboration. Social media platforms enable organisations to listen to the voices of customers and innovate and act upon the ideas given.
By doing so, they gain customers’ loyalty and trust which is important to their success. Lastly, social media allows employees and customer to share their problems and receive suggestions and solutions by other users in real time. However, it is imperative to note that not all is good with social media as it can have disastrous impact on a company if it is not managed effectively. Social media does have a powerful amplifying effect. But just like any technology, it can be used for good or evil.