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Companies and social media: Can the benefits outweigh the potential distractions?

It's kind of ironic that I stumbled upon this month-old study through a link posted by a Facebook friend over the weekend.The heart of the study: there are still many companies out there that are resisting a social media strategy, even though the tools lead to improved customer relationships and increased sales.

It's kind of ironic that I stumbled upon this month-old study through a link posted by a Facebook friend over the weekend.

The heart of the study: there are still many companies out there that are resisting a social media strategy, even though the tools lead to improved customer relationships and increased sales. So why the resistance? More than half of the respondents - comprised mostly of senior managers in IT, sales and marketing departments - say that there's fear among the IT folks and senior execs that worker productivity will drop if social media tools are introduced.

I understand the fear that may be out there. Who wants their employees caught up in MySpace or Twitter all day when they should be working on those quarterly reports or the big presentation for tomorrow's meeting? But I think the fear - and the subsequent pushback - stems from one word: social.

There's something about the word social that goes counter to perceived perception of productivity in the workplace. But until there's a better buzz term for the umbrella that covers corporate blogs, Twitter updates, Facebook pages and more, we're stuck with the perception.

The study itself was commissioned by a Avanade, a global IT consulting firm that's in the business of selling companies on social media strategies, so you kind of have to take their findings with a grain of salt. Still, I've seen some anecdotal examples from companies who are dabbling in social media offerings and the seem to be pretty happy with the outreach so far.

Earlier this month, I wrote about what Dell and Cisco Systems are doing on the video marketing fronts for promoting their technologies - and not so much focusing on specific products. I chatted with Ken Wirt, Cisco's VP of consumer marketing about the efforts to use Web 2.0 tools to promote the company, it's technologies and products. His thoughts:

What we try to do is walk the talk. If we think Web 2.0 is transforming the way people work and play and live and learn, then shame on us if we're not participating in it... We've shifted a core part of the marketing budget into the Web and we do some of the most innovative marketing out there - blogging, twittering, games.

Sure, there's always a fear of the unknown. And for the most part, social media is still largely unfamiliar territory for businesses. Still, social media tools - or whatever buzz name they should have - eventually will become an integral part of business operations. Just like e-mail and office Web connections had the potential to be abused by employees who were sidetracked by e-mail jokes or YouTube  videos, social media tools can also be a potential distraction.

There's a balance that needs to happen here. But if I were a company, the balance I'd be more worried about is the advantage that social media-friendly competitors might gain over me if I spend too long dwelling on the potential negative effects.