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4 ways social media improves work productivity (and 3 ways it doesn't)

By Chris Nerney, Network World
July 25, 2011 12:02 AM ET

Network World - The corporate world's response to the phenomenal growth of social media has ranged from enthusiastic embrace to abject horror.

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What one enterprise may consider a fantastic tool for building its business, another may determine to be a threat to the bottom line.

Both are right, depending on how social media tools are used by their employees. Here are some ways social media can help your employees be more productive, along with some ways it accomplishes the exact opposite.

1. Employees can find information they need faster

The Internet has made more information available to more people than ever before. There's tremendous value in that.

However, there's a downside: The Internet firehose can make it extremely difficult to quickly and easily find solutions to problems, even when a user does a specific search. After all, when you "Google" something, you don't get just one answer; you get pages and pages of search results. And they're not necessarily ranked in order of value to you. This often leaves users wading through search returns, some of which provide conflicting and even inaccurate information.

But when users turn to their social networks for information, they frequently get prompt, helpful and accurate answers.

Here's a brief example to which many of you probably can relate: About three years ago, I was trying to figure out how to get a keyword-based Twitter stream on a Web page. (Those are very common now, but back then they weren't.) I tried finding a solution through Google, but the search results weren't helpful. Then I posted a question to my Twitter followers. Within five minutes I got three specific responses, with links. Two of the responses recommended the same app. Problem solved.

Workers around the world have had similar experiences getting information through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora and other social networking platforms. Having a real (and knowledgeable) human being answer a question beats relying on an algorithm any day.

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2. Social media = professional networking on steroids

Professional networking usually is thought of in terms of career advancement, and there's no doubt it's critical for that purpose.

But networking also can help you do your current job better. The right social networking connection can lead to contracts for your business, ongoing professional advice and awareness of educational opportunities (webinars, etc.) that can enhance a worker's performance.

Further, a good social media network is a pipeline for professional talent. The next person you follow, friend or connect with could be your organization's next star employee.

3. Stress relief

Make no mistake: Social media can be abused in the workplace (more on that later), but when used in moderation it offers a welcome break from the daily stress of a job.

Whether it's checking out a funny video recommended by a Facebook friend or reading an interesting blog post tweeted by one of your followers, social media offers a brief escape that can replenish a workers' energy and give their mind a rest before they return to the rigors of the job.

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