In grade school, distractions are a major problem. Toys, notes and gadgets are common, and they prevent students from paying attention to course materials. Nor do such distractions end at the school door.
As an entrepreneur and leader of a team, you too at times may feel like a teacher, checking to make sure your employees aren’t wasting time with social media. That exercise is even more important now that your bottom line profit is tied to these individuals’ productivity.
But here’s an interesting question for you: Is social media really that meaningless a distraction? It certainly can be, but in many ways, your employees’ social media usage can actually be a boon for your business. Here’s how.
1. Meaningful distractions
Believe it or not, distractions can actually be meaningful, and have the ability to boost your workers’ overall productivity. How does that work?
The human mind isn’t built to solve problems constantly for hours at a time. We do much better when we’re given chances to take a step back and decompress. In fact, some of our best problem-solving happens in the unconscious mind once we’ve stepped away from the problem.
Cruising the social media world for a few minutes between assignments gives employees’ brains a chance to relax, making them less stressed and letting them come back to work with fresh eyes. Those few minutes of “wasted time” can actually be an investment.
2. News and information
Don’t forget that social media platforms — especially Facebook and Twitter — are largely focused on syndicating and spreading news. For most professional positions, this information is important. For content marketers, browsing their newsfeeds isn’t just beneficial; it’s downright necessary that they learn what their demographics are talking about, and brainstorm new ideas.
For salespeople, social media is an opportunity to learn the latest trends and capitalize on them.
For programmers, it might be a chance to learn about some new technology or a creative solution to a problem that yields personal inspiration.
3. Networking and communication
Social media is also a powerful networking tool. After all, that’s how these platforms were initially conceived. Giving your employees, especially salespeople and account managers, the ability to connect with new people and make their presence in the community known is a way to expand your business’s potential reach.
Every new contact in your or your employees’ personal social networks is another potential customer, client or partner.
It may not seem like a significant possibility, but eventually, when you urgently need to hire someone or need an expert in a foreign programming language, you’ll be glad those contacts are there. So, encourage your employees to grow their personal networks as much as possible.
4. Personal branding
The most powerful way your employees can use social media is as an outlet for their respective personal brands. The idea here is that each of your employees has his or her own unique identity in the social media world, with separate social media followings, but those employees are still loosely tied to your core corporate brand.
Personal brands, in general, tend to be trusted more than corporate brands; they’re seen as friendlier, more trustworthy and easier to approach. That means that whether you like it or not, your employees are serving as soft brand ambassadors for your company with each of their interactions, and that those interactions have enormous potential to increase the visibility and reach of your brand.
Imagine for a moment that you have 15 employees, and each one has 200 friends and followers. As a corporation, your social accounts have about 500 followers, so when you share an article, you’ll reach a network of 500 people. But if each of your employees shares that article on his or her own feeds, you’ll end up reaching 3,500 followers, 3,000 of whom will have seen the article from a personal brand, instantly increasing their trust and value in it.
Beyond that, you could feasibly develop each personal brand into its own mini-empire, with each of your employees writing his or her own content and developing personal circles. Doing so will greatly increase your company’s overall reputation and also serve as a perk for those employees, giving them a beefier resume when it’s time to move on.
Finding the balance
Of course, there are still downsides to using social media throughout the workday. If you’re not careful, you could get trapped in an endless loop of infinite scrolling and videos of cute kittens and puppies. One of my favorite bloggers, Tim Urban, calls this the Dark Playground.
Clearly, if the majority of your employees are mired in the dark playground, your business’s productivity is going to plummet.
But as long as you instill the right social media values — using these sites sparingly and in ways that benefit your employees as individuals and the company as a whole — social media use can be something you should encourage as a team leader. There are pros and cons to virtually any form of technology — you just need to learn how to harness them.