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The Truth About How Social Media Has Impacted Employees


Guest post by Dan Schawbel (@DanSchawbel), a Gen Y career and workplace expert, the Founder of Millennial Branding and the author of the new book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press).

Back in 2007, I created the first social media position at EMC Corporation, a Fortune 200 technology company based outside of Boston, MA. Back then, selling the idea of social to the company was extremely tough because it was so new, management was afraid and there was a lot of red tape. I would have to present case studies from competitors and partners to prove it’s worth, citing DELL and NetApp as examples. This is what most social media professionals had to do back then and now, since there are enough case studies, it’s less about the convincing and more about the doing. The one thing that doesn’t get discussed enough is how employees are using these tools to build their own careers at their companies. The research I did, in partnership with American Express, for my new book might surprise many of you.

Last year, we surveyed 1,000 millennial employees and 1,000 of their managers and we found that social media has still not been embraced and taken seriously in the workplace. Few managers and employees view social media skills as being important to their jobs and when it comes to promoting. Managers aren’t particularly comfortable connecting with their employees on social networks. When it comes to who owns an employee’s social media profile, many managers believed the company did instead of the employee. Here is a breakdown of the results from the study and what they mean to you and your job moving forward:

Do managers care about social media skills when promoting?

Relative to social skills (interpersonal skills) and hard skills (technical skills), social media skills are viewed as the least important at work. The value of social media in the workplace hasn’t been tapped by companies yet and few managers and employees put an emphasis on using social media tools for business related activities. That being said, employees have adopted social media tools for business slightly more than their managers. Only 16% of managers and 17% of employees view using social media profiles to actively contribute to online industry conversations as either very important or extremely important. Only 12% of managers and 17% of employees view using social media profiles to build a following on social networking sites as being very important or extremely important. 16% of managers and 19% of employees think that using social media profiles to promote their company is very important or extremely important.
I expect these numbers to grow in the future as the tools get adopted more and millennials become the majority of corporations. Millennials are constantly using these tools to build their own hard and soft skills and change the way business is being done.

What are social media relationships between managers and their employees really like?

The relationships managers have with their employees on social networks is shaky and uncomfortable based on this study. Overall, employees are more comfortable being friends with managers on social and professional networks than their managers are. When it comes to Facebook, only 14% of managers are either very comfortable or extremely comfortable being friends with employees, while 24% of employees said the same. When millennials become managers (15% of millennials are already managers), they will be more comfortable with social media relationships and view them as a way to build a network and drive business forward.

For the study, we also looked at managers searching for information about their employees online and the reactions to what they share. In every instance, more managers look up information about employees online than employees looking up information about their managers. Overall, both groups aren’t using the web to research for information on each other. When it comes to social networking sites (i.e. Facebook and Twitter), 81% of managers don’t look up information about their employees and 83% of employees don’t look up information about their managers. Out of those who said yes, more younger managers would look up an employee than older ones.

Managers and employees are careful when using social networks. Although you hear about those extreme cases of employees being fired for social media mishaps, they are rare. For instance, 88% of managers and 92% of employees haven’t noticed anything inappropriate and 91% of managers and 97% of employees haven’t spoken to the person misbehaving online. Only 4% of managers have disciplined an employee from what they’ve said online.

Managers and employees will continue to check up on each other online out of curiosity and for relationship building purposes. Obviously, common sense is important when you’re posting and sharing online because you are what you post. If you’re posting questionable things online, it will increasingly haunt you in the workplace because that information is just a click away.

Who really owns your social media profiles?

By now, you’ve probably heard about the PhoneDog vs. Noah Kravitz case in which PhoneDog felt that they owned Noah’s social media profiles. For the study, I was curious to find that many managers felt like his profiles should be given back to his employer. Millennial employees feel that they should own the rights to their own social media profiles even if they use them during work hours. Fewer managers agree that their employees should. Out of the managers, only 54% said that employees should have the rights to the profiles, yet 69% of employees said they should have them.

Social media profiles are sacred to millennial employees. They use their profiles to connect their personal and professional lives together and most log into them at least once per day. Instead of confiscating profiles, have social media guidelines and best practices so they know how to best use them to support the company. By encouraging social media use, you will attract and retain better Gen-Y talent.

19 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Truth About How Social Media Has Impacted Employees”

  1. Dan Shwarma says:


  2. JudyMartin says:

    Brian thanks for sharing this insight from Dan. I have to say that a lot of this came as a surprise to me but then again my lens has been very much through social media eyes. Oddly enough – although I have a few years on Dan, his work influenced my attention, interest and ultimate buy-in to the benefits of social media in business. But at work it’s still a hot potato depending on who you ask. Truth is, we’re still writing the book on social media in the workplace, and I think theres a long way to go because of transparency concerns, loyalty issues and ultimately privacy and control. Not an easy nut to crack. @JudyMartin:disqus8

  3. Christine Jacobsen says:

    Wow, honestly, I think that “4% of managers have disciplined an employee from what they’ve said online” is a high amount! And to think, that only includes the people who are actually being disciplined, and not the people who are just secretly judged. I like to believe that social media is mostly about common sense, and this shows that a whole lot of people are not using common sense when it comes to social media and the workplace.

  4. PeterJ42 says:

    If you work in an old-fashioned company, of course you are going to get these attitudes.

    Command and Control is the core of the problem – managers who believe they tell people what to do and expect them to do it. Modern companies have flatter structures – people are experts in their field and managers enable them, co-ordinate them and motivate them.

    In this world, the customer suddenly has a voice – people who can make a difference are on the outside of the company, not hidden in the middle.

    So don’t blame the millennials, change the 19th century company.

  5. Sarah Bauer says:

    Transparency of identity for brands and individuals online has developed extremely rapidly in the past couple of years, a total 180 move from the days of the “anonymous Internet”, so it’s no wonder the social media relationship between managers and employees is mostly shaky (and shy!) Let’s just give it some time and allow everyone to adjust to this new, transparent reality.

  6. Great statistics Dan – I’m looking forward to reading your book. As a Millennial who gets to work in a very Millennial- and social-media- friendly environment, I sort of “geek out” about this type of stuff. I am a huge proponent of the changing workplace — not to fit the needs of Millennials, but so that the companies can reach OUT to their consumers — who either happen to BE Millennials or are starting to act like Millennials. Forbes recently had an article about how customers in general are adopting Millennial-like attitudes and patterns of behavior.

  7. Sal Conca says:

    This is useful information that both corporations, managers and employees need to consider in our social economy. Today’s work force mentality has changed drastically partly because of the economy and also from the impact social media has made on companies, communities and individuals. When an employee attaches their persona to a company profile there is a perceived benefit to both parties and in doing so that relationship needs to be respected. Problems arise when these scenarios are not discussed before hand. Too many companies do not have policies and procedures in place to allow for everyone to benefit, mainly because they do not take the time to do it and likely have not taken the time to put procedures in place for other parts of their business or don’t know how.

  8. Jim Claussen says:

    Yes, I have to agree with Judy – I’m really amazed at the findings from this study and have to ask – What planet are these companies on? This is 180 degrees of the trend we are seeing as social business movement is organically growing across today’s connected economy.

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