Even though the vast majority of company employees use Facebook and similar platforms to widen their contact networks and obtain information, few use them as tools for running projects or prospecting for business. Staff also tend to have misgivings about expressing views on the company they work for.

Employees Still Largely in Passive Mode on Social Networks

In France many company employees use social networks for work purposes - at least those networks that are aimed at the general public, that is. A study carried out by Cegos, a French company specialising in business training, reveals that though some 61% of those surveyed state that they log on to Facebook, only 9% claim to make active use of the platform, while only 6% actively use LinkedIn. As a general rule, they use the social networks for fairly traditional activities, such as widening their circle of acquaintances (59%), obtaining information on their market and their competitors (44%), or looking for jobs (25%). All of which are relatively passive uses. “Employees haven’t yet really grasped the potential resources of these networks for more active professional use such as business prospecting, recruitment, collaborative projects, etc,” explained Philippe Gérard, Manager, Digital Training Programmes, at Cegos, in an interview with L’Atelier. This might be due to “a lack of knowledge on the part of the employees of all the possibilities offered by social networks.” Other reasons might be “the absence of an immediate need for other uses and a general lack of information,” he suggested.

Very few constraints on employees

This lack of information is also apparent within companies, which means there is a gap between the use staff are actually making of the social networks and the opportunities for doing so offered by the firm. While 37% of staff polled have declared themselves “fans” of their companies on a social network, and almost half say they have no worries about speaking about their companies on these networks, only 9% said they had actually expressed an opinion on their company or its products. Moreover, while only 25% of companies actually forbid their employees to talk publicly about the company, 45% of staff interviewed said they didn’t believe they had the right to express opinions about their employer. Philippe Gérard’s observation is that employees “tend to exercise self-discipline,” and that they “worry about confidentiality and about having their contribution and their ability to collaborate assessed.” This is even more the case when it comes to company-internal social networks. Some 32% of employees polled say that their concern about seeing their personal information exploited would be a major barrier to using an in-company social network.

More hand-holding needed?

In any case, just setting up a social network does not in itself suffice to stir enthusiasm – as the figures prove.  While some 23% of company managers claim there is an internal social network in their firm, only 13% of employees polled say the same. The solution, according to Philippe Gérard, is for management to do more hand-holding with their staff in this field. This means “making an effort to highlight all the advantages (the platform) can bring” and perhaps also “appointing a specific person whose job it is to bring the network community to life.” Still, only 47% of mid-size companies (250 to 5000 employees) interviewed say they need to appoint a ‘Head of Social Networks’ in the next three years. So the tide is turning, but too slowly, according to Philippe Gérard, due to an economic environment which doesn’t allow companies to prioritise making this kind of appointment right now.