Social Media in the Workplace

The emoji that best reflects my views on social media in the workplace is one of skepticism. Mostly, I’m skeptical at what the company hopes to get out the platform, and whether content that is both organic and engaging can truly live on workplace social media. With several of my previous employers, there existed an internal site/page (not explicitly called social media) where employees were encouraged to post on. Commonly seen content included internal press releases, helpful tips on how to navigate complicated software and secondary research on topics that my consulting firm frequently worked on. Occasionally, a “fun” post might appear, perhaps photos from the company picnic or introducing new team members that were recently hired. Ultimately though, there was little reason or incentive to participate in creating content. Social identity was not built through engaging with the social media; in fact, being too active might actually lead to a negative identity since peers might perceive one to be overly eager to “drink the company kool-aid.”

Despite these negative experiences, I have seen one instance where social media in the workplace was a raging success. At Google, a platform called “Memegen” is wildly power, and has been for at least 5 years. Memegen is a site where employees posted memes that had internal jokes/meaning. Many of these memes were live-streamed. For example, every Thursday, Google executives held a town hall type forum where they did things like answer questions and introduce new products. During these sessions, Memegen would be buzzing, poking fun of the execs and cracking jokes at the company’s own expense. An example of Memegen can be found here (notice the nerdy tech jokes making fun of Yahoo):

Memegen screenshot from: http://thefw.com/take-a-peek-inside-googles-internal-meme-generator/

So why was Memegen so successful? Importantly, Memegen was not created to help employees as much as it was for employees to be entertained. Google did not necessarily endorse the platform and was not utilizing it to push content to employees. Instead, people were incentivized to post content simply in hopes of generating laughs and “thumbs ups” — much in the same way they are incentivized to publish content on non-work social media platforms. Yet Google still benefited from Memegen. It is important for the company’s culture and is a way for the company to demonstrate how open it is to internal criticism and feedback. At least during my time there, morale was boosted by Memegen. In addition, the employer could benefit by using the social media platform as a listening tool.

Ultimately, my experience at Google gives me a glimmer of hope for social media in the workplace. I believe that if done well, there is huge potential for benefit. However, the social media platform must be implemented as organically as possible with little “HR” or “big-brother” supervision. A company should also be introspective and analyze whether its culture is one that naturally fosters a more playful social media platform.