Social Media: Benefit or Problem?

Social media sites are part of daily life for the majority of Americans. The advent of the smartphone has accelerated the attraction and use of social media sites. Social media can be a benefit to the business, but it can also be a problem. Issues such as productivity, security, compliance, and workplace disruption are all negative aspects of social media interactions.

I recently read the Pew Research Center report, "Social Media Use in 2018," which highlights a number of existing trends and a newly emerging narrative around dealing with social media. The graphics in this blog are from this report.

The Platforms

The typical U.S. citizen reports that they use at least three of the eight major platforms that were measured in the report.

  • Facebook -- The dominant social media site is Facebook. Its usage penetration has remained flat since 2016. About 68% of U.S. adults report that they are Facebook users, except for the 65 years of age or older group. Users access it once or more on a daily basis. Use of Facebook has grown consistently since 2012, from 55% to 68% today. See the chart below.
  • YouTube -- YouTube does not exactly qualify as social media, but some social elements are contained on this site. It is now used by 73% of U.S. adults with 94% usage for those the 18- to 24-year-old range.
  • Instagram -- Comes in third in terms of popular social media sites, with about 36% of those surveyed using the platform.
  • Pinterest -- Comes in fourth with about 29% of those surveyed using the platform.
  • The list is rounded out with Snapchat at 27%, LinkedIn with 26%, Twitter at 24%, and WhatsApp at 22%.

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Social Media Consumption

By Age -- There is quite a difference concerning the use of social media based on age. The Pew Research Center survey found that 80% of 18- to 29-year-olds indicate they use social media. For the 30- to 49-year-old group, that drops to 78%. The 50- to 64-year-old group drops to 64%. Usage drops to 37% for those 65 and older.

Activity -- The chart below indicates that the majority of Facebook users access the site several times a day. That is followed by Snapchat at 49% and Instagram at 38%. Twitter and YouTube are accessed several times a day by 26% of adult users and 29% of adult users, respectively. What the report did not cover is how long users accessed the sites. It could be anywhere from a few minutes to an hour more.

Gender -- Pinterest is more popular with women at 41%, versus men at 16% usage.

Loyalty -- There is a substantial overlap in loyalty to the sites. The majority of users indicate they primarily use Facebook and YouTube, but also use Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. Loyalty to the sites seems to be high and extends from one site to another.

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Benefits
Advertising -- I have discovered I receive the equivalent of advertising via LinkedIn and Twitter. One of my associates uses Facebook for advertising.

Messaging -- Facebook Messenger 2.3 was just released. It includes updates for customer chat tools and a quick reply feature. It also offers advanced customization tools so you can target your customer support. Besides using these features in the contact center, this could be used by employees communicating with each other.

Contact Center -- Agents in the contact center can use social media to collect information about those contacting them. This enhances the knowledge and context agents have about the customer. More knowledge generally equals more sales as well as better customer support satisfaction.

Website -- Those who design company websites can analyze their social media sites to gain an appreciation of what interests and what discourages potential customers. This knowledge can be used to enhance the website, make it more attractive and more interesting, as well as hold onto the customer's attention longer. This means more sales and revenue.

Problems
Productivity -- I receive many social media notifications daily. For my efficiency, I work with these notifications in batches. Unfortunately, the notifications are not always useful, sometimes interfere with my work, and reduce my productivity. I have observed some contact center agents scrolling through social media sites in between customer calls rather than being productive.

Disruptions/Distractions -- It has been observed that when a person is interrupted in production work, or distracted during that time, it takes time for them to return back to their productive stage. This means that the distraction or disruption time is extended for another minute or two until the person can regain what they were working on and continue the productive operation. The distractions and disruptions therefore may be twice as long as people expect, reducing productivity further.

Security -- Email has been a popular tool for phishing. Although many people have learned not to click on links within their emails that are suspicious, some people still do it. I think that with social media sites, because they breed familiarity and trust, phishing through the sites is also a problem. Because the social media interactions generally are assumed to be from friendly parties, the barrier against phishing is lower and therefore has a greater impact on security.

Compliance -- Users of social media may use the sites for business communications that are outside compliance requirements. This presents problems for the business that cannot control, record, or audit these communications. The business could be liable for penalties and fines.

Social media is here to stay. Social media sites are also moving into business applications such as advertising and messaging services. You cannot block them. What you need to do is continually train your users and agents to watch for security issues. You also need to ensure that they honestly do their work and ignore the disruptions and distractions that occur during the day from the social media sites. You cannot completely prevent this, but you can certainly reduce it. Interacting with social media is going to be an ongoing problem that can be reduced but never eliminated.