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Are social tools used by optimists, or do they make optimists?

A new report from Google reveals how social media is used in the workplace.

Businessmen texting
Businessmen utilising social tools outside of the office environment. Photograph: Getty Images

There's a strong correlation between business and personal optimism, and use of social tools in the workplace, according to a new report from Google and Millward Brown.

After interviewing 2,700 professionals from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, the researchers found that frequent users of social tools at work are:

  • Happier in their jobs. 38 per cent are very satisfied with their jobs, compared to 18 per cent of non-users
  • More successful. 86 per cent have recently been promoted, compared to 61 per cent of non-users
  • In faster growing companies. Frequent users of social tools are more than twice as likely to be working in high growth companies compared to non-users.
  • More optimistic about their future growth. 59 per cent expect the performance of their company to improve over the next year, compared to 38 per cent of non-users.

Sadly, Google and Millward Brown don't unpick the most interesting part of these findings, which is the direction of causality involved. Clearly the internet services giant has a vested interest in pushing the idea that using social tools will make you happier, more successful, and more productive; but it would be an equally interesting finding if it were the case that people who are optimistic, both about their own prospects and their businesses.

Similarly, Google will want to emphasise the idea that social tools may help your company grow faster, but an alternative causal story may be that fast growing companies have more freedom to experiment with new technologies and work styles than those which are struggling to stay afloat.

Thomas Davies, the head of Google Enterprise in the UK, argued that adoption of social tools in the workplace wasn't an if, so much as a when, and that as such, what is important for Google and other purveyors of such tools is to understand the where and the why of social adoption. He added:

It won't be long before sharing online is as natural in our business lives as it is in our personal ones. . . Having the ability to find the people and information you want faster speeds up the decision-making process allowing businesses to be more agile and competitive.

Also present at the report's launch was Matt Knight, Ocado's marketing chief. Discussing the online supermarket's social strategy, he described how the company, which now has 5000 employees spread over 10 sites, deliberately attempts to retain the manoeuvrability it had as a smaller company. They had great success with an internal wiki, and 18 months ago, switched their company to Google's enterprise tools. Knight also spoke about the company's consumer facing social media strategy, which, frankly, seemed a lot more barebones.

Ocado, like so many companies, seems to know it ought to be using social media to interact with customers, but doesn't really know why. Ten per cent of Ocado's customers follow them on Facebook, and Knight envisaged a situation where a customer could "like" an individual product, but there was little vocalisation of what this would bring the supermarket. Whether social media is publicity, marketing, sales or something else entirely, it seems clear that internal tools are used in a far more result-driven manner than external ones.

One correlation which Google weren't so keen to highlight: The two countries in the study which are the most enthusiastic users of social tools? Spain and Italy, with 74 per cent of respondents eager to use them. Meanwhile, the least enthusiastic was Germany, where just 53 per cent. Linking those figures up with the macroeconomic state of those countries doesn't paint quite such a rosy view.