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Executive Summary:

Social media has been successfully adapted by a few MNC’s as channels for research and innovation. They have also shown their potential in promoting knowledge sharing and team building. The value of social media technology to improving overall organizational effectiveness is borne by statistical and empirical evidence. The use of Twitter for professional enhancement is well established now. The educational philosophy of constructivism offers a strong rationale for greater social media integration within the organization. These days, just as the sweep and reach of social media has increased, so have the niche media spaces that facilitate the interaction. Hence, beyond the prominent household names of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, we now have other specialized avenues for interaction like wiki portals and Youtube repositories of learning videos. In today’s competitive business environment, it is imperative for mutli-national companies to adopt social media strategies for external and internal communication

Introduction:

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc can be useful allies for managers in promoting knowledge sharing and team building. If applied selectively and appropriately, these media facilities can be sources of innovation and problem solving within the business corporation. The term ‘social media’ is a bit misleading and off-putting for managers, as it sounds as an avenue for recreation and time-pass. But when one understands the full scope of possible activities that could be carried out through these sites its utility for managers becomes clear. Another positive aspect of social media sites is their malleability/customizability to specific organizational purposes and goals. Beyond the prominent sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, there are a host of more specialized sites for sharing pictures or bookmarks or applications have cropped up. There are also niche professional blogs and wikis which are seeing steady increase in patronage. (Zielinski, 2012) The objective of this essay is to argue in affirmation of the positive role of social media to improve knowledge sharing, build social capital, support innovation and aid problem solving in multinational corporations.

Social media as a tool for innovation and research:

A key area where social media sites differ from conventional sites is the content. The former generate their own content, “collaboratively creating, editing, sharing, tagging, and organizing information, reshaping the contributions of others and engaging in peer-to-peer discussion. These are emergent technologies, meaning that structure and content and even application emerge with use, from the needs and activities of the users.” (“The Revolution Will Be,” 2011) And it is in this feature of dynamic and contemporaneous content that best suits knowledge sharing exercises. This feature is as well suited to the organizational task of building social capital. Management thinker James Surowiecki has argued in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, that by tapping the power of social media and in creating goal-specific discussion forums etc, substantial social capital can be built. In forums such as these, people from diverse backgrounds and opinions can bring to table “shrewd judgments and creative solutions”. The management can play a constructive role in this process by setting up apt mechanisms to collect and assimilate feedbacks, inputs and opinions. Surowiecki’s concept is closely aligned with that of ‘crowd-sourcing’, which is an emerging model of employee participation in the creative processes of business development. And social media outlets have been the backbone of prominent examples of crowd-sourcing. (“The Revolution Will Be,” 2011)

For a company to excel in innovation, it must allow employees a convenient and affordable medium of communication for free exchange of ideas. Social media fits these requirements perfectly, for not only are it cheap, it operates real-time and the communication is virtually instantaneous. In most organizations (except those in high-end IT business) not all employees can be expected to have the talent or inclination to contribute toward innovation. In this scenario, the said potential of social media could be made available to select departments within the organization, like, say, the Research & Development department. As an expert in this field notes,

“Social media are helping to fulfill the demand for cheap, instant communication between researchers fueled by the growth of collaborative and interdisciplinary research. This is where the real breakthroughs are occurring, helping to make employees part of a global research community. These new tools make research sharing easier and a more natural part of one’s daily life.” (Brydon, 2010)

The success of Twitter in aiding professional development:

The use of Twitter for professional enhancement is well established now. While Twitter is primarily used to reach out to personal social circles, in recent years, managements have successfully built Professional Learning Network (PLN) through this medium. Through a PLN, employees follow other employees who have similar interests. Or they subscribe to set categories of tweets sorted via hash tags. For example, a company in the agricultural sector can identify and separate relevant tweets for its employees by setting appropriate hash tag filters. This is a great way to build profession specific knowledge and exchange of opinion. To illustrate,

“In an effort to assist other agricultural educators, the creation of #AgEduChat surfaced. #AgEduChat is a weekly discussion that occurs on Twitter and/or Facebook. The purpose of #AgEduChat is for agricultural educators and supporters to come together and discuss current events or issues that surround the profession. #AgEduChat has been successful in providing a network for teachers and managers to interact and share ideas, opinions, and information that we can use to enhance our skills and profession.” (Bender & Genson, 2012)

Statistical & empirical evidence in support of greater social media integration:

To give an illustration of the pace in which social media and other IT enabled technologies are helping employees, let us consider the following statistics. For example, a comprehensive survey of 1,600 multinational companies across the globe was conducted by California based Palo Alto Networks. The survey found a 300 percent hike in social networking activity among employees in 2011 alone. This included such knowledge sharing activities a browser-based file sharing in company intranets. Another study by the American Society for Training and Development further validate these trends. This study was even more comprehensive, in that, it enrolled 3,800 participant companies spanning the globe. The results show that four in five managers are keen on consolidating these trends and have “planned to increase their use of social media for employee learning during the next three years.” (Zielinski, 2012) Moreover, these managers understand that providing the social media technological infrastructure is only a part of the task. Without a culture “that encourages knowledge sharing and staff dedicated to managing and promoting these initiatives, organizations can quickly lose traction as busy employees find little time or reason to use the tools amid the demands of daily work.” (Zielinski, 2012)

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