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The two faces of executive social media usage

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The two faces of executive social media usage

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I wrote a while back about some of the sillier aspects of work life, and in particular the continual refusal to adopt things that no end of academic and professional evidence show are worthwhile.  Things like flexible working, getting enough sleep and so on.  I didn’t mention social media in that post because I thought that we were increasingly reaching a state where it was accepted in the workplace.

There have been numerous studies showing that social media usage is a positive thing, whether it’s providing employees from a mental break, giving them the trust and responsibility they need to thrive, or of course utilizing these tools for collaboration, marketing or any of the other valid uses available in the workplace.

As the recent Altimeter report into social business shows however, few organizations have really reached that point yet, with many merely using social media as a marketing thing.  All of which creates the impression that social media is a forbidden treat in the workplace, despite data suggesting that over 80% of us regularly use it at work.

A recent Norwegian study showed that by far the biggest users however were executives themselves.  The research team surveyed over 11,000 employees, and collected information on their age, gender, education level and managerial responsibility.  They also tracked various personality traits for each participant.

In addition, each participant was asked for both their attitude towards social media, and their use of it, together with any restrictions their workplace place on social media usage.

The results revealed a fascinating dichotomy, with mid and high level managers both expressing a negative attitude towards social media usage during the day (for their employees that is).  For, you see, they themselves reported significantly more social media usage during work hours than their subordinates did.

Now, suffice to say, the report didn’t manage to unearth a reason for the discrepancy, and it’s possible that so attuned are employees to covering up their social media activities that under-reporting has become a habit.  The researchers also suggest that the long hours worked by senior managers may also play a part, forcing them to do social activities at work.

“The finding may also reflect that people with a high socioeconomic status are not as afraid to lose their job as those in low-status jobs,” the researchers say. “In addition, high rollers may be more interested in social media to advance their career.”

All of which continues the rather unfortunate zeitgeist that paints social media as a negative thing that will harm productivity.  Few of these kind of studies ever frame social tools in an enterprise context and highlight their potential for improving innovation or internal communications.  This, and the Altimeter state of the industry report highlighted earlier, show just how far we still have to go.

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