Social Media -- New Bane of Business?

Social Media -- New Bane of Business?

Marcia Forbes PhD

I’ve always felt I have at least two books in me. Having completed the first, I’ve jumped straight into the second. This second book, with focus of what 14 to 35 years olds in Jamaica are doing online, has made me a netizen, a citizen of the internet. More precisely, the past seven months with me pretty immersed in social media as I try to learn the features of the various forms, has made me a twittizen, a citizen of Twitter, my preferred social network medium.
Applying the business adage ‘go where the customers are’ to my research project, I went online recognizing that social networking is a huge part of what young people do on the internet. Although Facebook is the GIANT among social networking sites it was/is overwhelming for me. Twitter, a more manageable medium, was therefore selected as my first point of engagement and the community for my digital ethnography based on participant observation. I participate by tweeting and generally getting involved but I also always have my researcher eyes wide open, looking at the kinds of conversations and relationships and the ways in which Twitter is being used by Jamaicans. Qualitative research is great with the ‘touchy feelie’ nature of direct quotes, but I also like figures as do all business persons, hence the twitter survey.


Twitter Survey

About a month ago approximately 150 persons at a Jamaica Pegasus Tweetup completed a questionnaire which sought to explore how and why they used Twitter and what this social media site meant to them. One important point to make is that Entertainers & Music Producers, a key segment of Twitter users in this island, were largely absent from the tweetup. They are therefore not represented in these findings.
Some of the questions were posed against the backdrop of workplace productivity issues and ways in which use of social networks is carving into employers’ time. As demonstrated in the pie chart below, the vast majority (72%) of people who tweet do so via their cell phones. This speaks to the mobility of the twitter generation. They are tweeting on the go. This compares to 16.5% who tweet mainly via laptops & a mere 10.3% who do so mainly from desktop units.
These findings provide fertile ground for further exploration. In terms of productivity levels and tweeting, blocking access via work computers is not likely to reduce workers’ tweets since that’s largely not the route via which they are accessing this social network site.


Routes via which Twitter accessed


The profile of Twitter users internationally is very up-market and those at the Tweetup reflected this. The emcee Elva commented on this as she walked in saying, “dem yah people above my intelligence”. They were mainly young, upwardly mobile, middle class Jamaicans at the two tweetups hosted by the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. Elva was right in her comedic assessment of the IQ of local tweeple (people who tweet). Approximately 67% had 1st degrees or above while approximately 10% had university diplomas. Over three-quarters of them (77%) had tertiary level training!!

Three-quarters of them (76%) said they were employed. Most had at least 200 followers. These findings suggest that Jamaicans who tweet do not fit the profile of this country’s average citizen. They have a job, they read, they write (tweets, blogs, newspaper articles etc.) and they’re quite likely to have influence!!

When do they Tweet?

A recent article in the Jamaica Observer, citing a survey by, noted that 70 per cent of the Caribbean working population with online access at work use social media during working hours. Of that group 99 per cent log on to Facebook. So, how does my Twitter survey findings compare with this? Most of those who tweet tend to do so throughout the day. Almost 60% of the survey respondents tweeted throughout the day. However, after ‘normal’ work time, 5 to 10pm, is when the bulk of tweeting takes place.


Additionally, as reflected by the mode, most people post only about 10 tweets per day. The mean average number of tweets per day was about 50 but was substantially driven up by those few who tweet a lot. Question is, are these tweetaholics tweeting on the job and perhaps wasting worktime?

In a recent Twitter discussion in which over 30 persons participated between 4:30pm to 10 pm some weeks ago, interesting views were thrown up. While overall it was felt that there was need for clear company policies regarding social networking, there was also a view that a little social networking on the job could actually boost productivity. Here are some of the comments from that twitter discussion session.


Twitter Discussion re: Tweeting on Job

“Hrd a mgr say he OKs personal laptops & surfing @ work. Absentsm down. Emerg serv- sopm 2 do til called” – (Heard manager say he’s OK with personal laptops and surfing at work. This helps to reduce absenteeism. This is an emergency service so tweeting gives something to do until called. “I'm always finding sumn new that could help with my work...and I'd go crazy if I didn't check in...” (I’m always finding something new (on Twitter) that could help with my work. If I couldn’t check this I’d go crazy.)
Other responses showed the addictive nature of social networking and some of the ways productivity can be negatively impacted. Importantly, though, they also show the value young people place on their ability to access social sites (whether on the job or not). Companies may block access to their peril, meaning workers may get resentful and slouchy.
“back late from lunch r late 2 meeting bcuz of twitter, stealin a tweet in the bathrrom break, present in body absent in mind”.
“I’ll even make an excuse just to get in there (bathroom) and squeeze a tweet if comes to that LOL”.
“It can be done in between tasks etc. Depending on person’s workload and efficiency.” This statement was challenged with a query as to whether the person was really serious in saying this. The response, “I am being very serious. Social media cannot be avoided. Companies need to embrace it to enhance productivity”. Powerful sentiment!!


Jury Still Out!

The jury is out as to whether use of social networking during work time is a hindrance or a help. Based on research findings and other reports out of the UK, Germany and USA, it seems to be coming down on the side of hindrance. The most important thing for local businesses is to ensure that a social media policy is in place and that the rules & regulations are known by all.