Does social media make us more productive?

Fernando Polo

7 January 2017

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With the recent launch of Facebook Workplace, now seems an appropriate time to evaluate the impact of social media on the way we work.

In recent years US macroeconomic data indicates that digital technology is not increasing productivity. In the last 7 years productivity has fallen to pre-internet levels; at the current rate Americans will be spending the next 100 years attempting to double their wealth.

We were promised that the use of social and digital tools within a ‘social business’ would enhance employee engagement and team collaboration. Taking this into consideration some will ask, “does it really make sense to invest in social business?”.

In December 2010 McKinsey highlighted some of the potential benefits of social technology for internal business use; including access to internal experts, collaboration between functional silos, reduction of the ‘time to market’ of products and services, as well as lower communication costs and travel expenses.

At Good Rebels, we believe that, through the use of collaboration tools like Slack and Basecamp, ‘engagement’ has increased and the costs of training new rebels has reduced. Thanks to an open culture and internal social tools, it takes a rebel three months to be truly productive, as opposed to the four months it would take another employee at another company without a structure and services similar to ours. And of course, this increased productivity is also valued by our clients.

A recent SAP white paper estimated that the cost of poor communication could be as high $26,000 per year, per employee. The same paper theorised that a corporate social network could increase worker productivity (Facebook was clearly listening).

The latest McKinsey report on the ‘social economy’ stated that improvements in collaborative environments through social technology can increase worker productivity by 20 to 25%.
However, hourly productivity from 2005 to 2012 grew by 1.5% annually, and not by 2.75% as in the previous decade previous. So, where does that leave us? Does social media really make us more productive?

I was once told that, “culture is the way we do the work”. I suspect that, in organisations with closed and siloed cultures, even the best social tools and collaboration software will not increase productivity. However, in companies where the soil is fertile, where openness, collaboration and innovation are prized, tools like Facebook Workplace are a true catalyst for productivity and growth.