Social media influence in the workplace may be relatively small

If you’re a brand trying to influence key business contacts through social media, it may not be happening during business hours … and it may not be happening at all, according to new findings by WorkPlace Media.
While more than half (55%) of office workers with Web access have at least one social networking account, only 43% use it at work (for less than 30 minutes per day), according to the just-released survey. A Forrester study released yesterday reported that all Internet activity among consumers has leveled off at about 12 hours/week.
Even less encouraging for marketers, the study found that not having a presence on a social site made little difference to people’s opinion of a brand. And only 11% follow any major brand on a social network.
That view gets support from a recent Harris poll in which 21% of participants said they relied on face-to-face info from a family member or friend when researching a purchase decision,compared to only 4% who mentioned using online social networking sites such as Facebook,Linked-In or MySpace.
In the Workplace Media study, however, Facebook was by far the most popular social property,with 89% members of the site. The runner-up was MySpace (40%), followed by LinkedIn (31%), and Twitter (18%).
Of the 18% who reported acting upon a business or product recommendation on social networking sites, the top categories were: entertainment (53%), dining out (50%), groceries (23%), beauty care/cosmetics (21%), apparel (20%), and electronics and pet care (15%).
The survey was fielded in May 2009 among 753 American workers.
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the methodology or research but at least directionally speaking, the results are interesting and beg further study into:
  • Is the use of social media at work increasing or decreasing?
  • How is the access to social media being influenced by emerging corporate policies?
    Do the trends differ by industry?
  • 18% acting on SM product recommendations seems significant, especially since the channel is still developing. How rapidly is this going to develop?
  • Since work/personal behavior on social media is merging, what about home access to SM?
  • How does this workplace study compare to other populations like students or people who work from the home?

All posts

  • Barb

    External SM use is definitely increasing in our workplace. Employees who made fun of "tweeting" a couple of months ago are now trying to think of what else to tweet about the company. I think the mistake comes in when workplaces use external SM to hard sell instead of building great relationships with clients. As companies understand the ability to reach out to their clients in a more personal way through SM, usage will continue to climb in a positive way.


    Barb, I think your obeservation is probably consistent with workplace trends. I thought this research was interesting enough to highlight, but it is a relatively small sample size and it's really a snapshot, not a trend.

    The conclusion of the study possibly could have been "SM use in the workplace is exploding" if there was a historical context to show growth. But for now, SM still seems to have a small role at most companies.

    The other think I wonder about is when do companies simply outlaw SM because it can be so addictive and time-consuming?

  • John Bottom

    Interesting stuff Mark. But I would note that 'workers' is not the same as 'buyers'. If you have a professional responsibility to buy, or to recommend, or to advise on the potential purchase of goods or services, you need to stay abreast of what's happening in your industry, which most people do online. And even if you start with a Google search (suggesting you are not a regular social media user with favourites, RSS lists etc) you will find interesting and engaging content from people (vendors and peers) that will increase your knowledge and ultimately influence your decision.

    But very interesting nonetheless – thanks for posting.

  • Jim LeBlanc

    I am actually surprised that 18% of the people in the workplace survey use Twitter. In my B2B environment nobody — and I mean nobody — uses it. I think this research would be much different if they looked at B2B versus media-type companies.


    John — completely agree. I recently spoke to a Procurement person who said Google is his most powerful research tool. In that scenario, companies better be surrounding themselves with excellent content!

    Jim — I still get a lot of blank stares when I talk about Twitter, too. The use of the tool is NOT intuitively obvious. And those who try it usually quit after the first week. I noticed that Twitter radically changed its sign-up page to emphasize the real-time information power of the tool instead of "tell us what you're doing."

  • David Breznau

    mark – great high school photo. what's with the sign?

    corporate policy should be focused on personalizing the brand not about directly controlling internal/external conversation. social platforms have evolved and redefined "living" brand. external and internal interaction, although separate, will continue toward synergistic and homogenized efforts. focus will continue to be about relationships with the end user. product recommendation, customer service will continue to lead external/internal development.

    but, what do i know..

  • wecandobiz

    It is stating the obvious perhaps, but the answers you get depend on who you ask.

    I know of many small business owners who spend all day at a PC earning money and building new contacts on "social networks" (actually business focused networks from their perspective) is helping them dicover new opportunities and bring in new business.

    This is a very different scenario to using Facebook at work where all your contacts are family and friends and you'd never actively look for suppliers.

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ


    David — Ha ha ha. Congratulations ona full body slam! : )

    Boy you are opening up a WHOLE new topic around corporate governance. I think I will be writing about that in the near future. If a company's most valuable asset is its brand, why would it not try to control (more PC word = "influence") what employees are writing? I will stop now or I will be writing all day!!

    Ian, in a way, your post gets to the same point — if employees are using SM on the job, should their companies dictate how they are using it, when, etc.?

    I strongly think: "YES" companies should control SM time and purpose, just as they control the use of company telephones, fax machines and computers.

    Usually when I say something like that about 50% of the readers CRUSH ME! What is the sentiment out there on this? Is this still a controversial issue or is corporate governance becoming more accepted?

  • Lil Miss

    Yes i am gonna crush you. you can't possibly control social media and why would you want to. it's all about trust and relationships right? shouldn't you TRUST your relationships with your employees to tell your story? If you can't, you have bigger fish to fry, my friend!

    btw, LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!

  • Dean Holmes


    Great thoughts as usual. I believe usage will rise when IT let's down Filters to allow for sales to engage with customers and prospects.

    This is the movement. I talk to many CEO's about how to start using SM as a business development tool, as many of the strategies for outreach are far better than conventional methods – I have proven that time and time again with my own uses of this method.

    Keep it up – great stuff.

    Dean Holmes

  • steve dodd

    Wow, what great thinking!

    1. Everything an employee does on the employer's clock is the property and responsibility of the employer. They will dictate what can and cannot be done (and technically enforce it); it's only a matter of time. Irrelevant of popular opinion, the employer is legally responsible for anything an employee does while working. It’s no different than their liability if an employee causes a vehicle accident while on company business (whether in a company vehicle or not). But, until they do, the issue of "wasting time" and potential security violations is a valid concern.

    2. Surveys and statistics are a major issue for me because first of all, often they are set up initially to make a preconceived point. Secondly, they are far too general to provide any meaningful value. Social Media usage and value is specific and unique to individual purpose. What the studies should be looking at is what people are really doing, not if they are generally using it. The current overall usage is too small (albeit growing exponentially) to really mean anything relative to the overall population.

    Social Media is still an emerging trend, not a ubiquitous standard. Please don’t forget the most infamous “misquote” by Thomas Watson (IBM founder) that “The world only needs five (5) computers”. So the story goes, he was actually referring to the first sales trip he made to sell IBM’s first production computer where he expected to sell five and came back with orders for 18! What he discovered, as so many other “visionaries” in our industry have found, we are way too early to accurately predict anything relative to the future of Social Media. What Watson did discover was the user community dictated where things would end up, not the “visionary”.

    And as always, love this blog!

  • Heather Rubesch

    A few thoughts about this topic:

    – 753 is pretty small sample size

    – We have no idea what industry or level of purchaser those 753 represent

    – Do people really tell the truth when asked how much they screw off (use personal SM) at work?

    This is an interesting "conversations starter" survey but I seriously doubt worth my retooling my marketing department direction over. SM is big and getting bigger. The landscape is definitely changing week to week and month to month.


    Well said, Heather. Like I said above, I'm pretty skeptical about the methodology but thought it was interesting.

  • Eman Rashad

    great conversation and grat topic also

  • Laura

    I think that this is focusing on B2C where only advocates of a brand will follow. For e.g. Apple enthusiasts. It does work better in more sophisticated industries in B2B. Again, it is about communication, building the relationship, with existing clients mainly, but influencing the word of mouth and enhancing your reputation and in the long run, a foot in the door could take a year (or more??) to open fully to result in revenue.

  • Yasmeen Anderson

    I agree with you and the other comments, this is a very small sample size and it's not necessarily a target group that reflects the workforce as a whole.

    An interesting offshoot of the study would be to see how this is growing in different industries. It may be obvious who some of the early adopters are, but I wonder if there are some surprising groups that are taking advantage of SM?

    I also think that adoption of SM is changing so rapidly that to truly track the adoption trend, watching the data every few months would be interesting.

  • Michael Troiano (@miketrap)

    The real problem here is that, according to the Pew Survey of 1735, 89% of people are full of shit.

    People can't self-assess the impact of social media on thier buying decisions any more than they can self-assess the impact of brands. We're just not that objective, all of us think we're ruled by reason instead of the emotion that really drives our buying decisions.

    Another point… I think too much is made of the work/home distinction. People do not magically transform themselvs at 5pm, turning from a "B" to a "C." The decisions we make at work are impacted by the way we spend our free time, and vice versa.

    This blog is a rare gem, BTW, very glad I found it. Keep it up.

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details