A waste of time, a distraction and a drain on resources - those are all accusations that managers have levelled at the use of social media at work. But research suggests that far from being a barrier to productivity, using social media actually helps employees advance their careers.
Working recently on a Google project on the use of social tools in business, I thought one finding really stood out: those using social tools at work are more likely to get promoted than those who do not.
The research showed that 86 per cent of frequent users say they have recently been promoted and 72 per cent say they are likely to be promoted, compared with 61 per cent and 39 per cent of non-users. The report hails these workers as the new social climbers, because they know how to employ the tools in the right way to get ahead.
In reality, there are a number of reasons why social networkers are more likely to progress in their career, and it appears that the most successful, visionary companies are already acknowledging the benefits of these tools to make it easy to connect and work together online.
According to the Google research, high-growth companies are most likely to use social tools, so it is important not to ignore their potential for the workplace.
So what are high-fliers doing differently when it comes to social networking? There are a number of ways in which social tools can help with career progression:
1. Showcasing depth of knowledge
When social media first appeared on the radar it was the more introverted individuals who started to use it, creating blogs, answering questions on forums and generally understanding the technology's potential as an outlet for sharing knowledge and exchanging views. This experience put them one step ahead, helping them to get noticed for their expertise.
In a professional situation, in-depth authority on a relevant topic is extremely attractive to employers and helps get introverts noticed without the need for active self-promotion because others are drawn to them to tap into their knowledge.
2. Making connections
Those using social networking in the workplace have recognised its potential to broaden their circle of contacts, which can lead to all sorts of useful business connections.
Building a network of contacts also offers an effective means of solving problems, giving access to a wider panel of individuals with different areas of expertise, whose knowledge can be tapped into to help solve problems and give advice on unfamiliar situations.
3. Building a personal brand
The most successful social networkers are not the ones who give away vast quantities of information about themselves online. Such behaviour can look unprofessional and even damage your reputation.
It tends to be those who have distilled personal information to build their own brand, including their skillset, experience and connections, who are most likely to be successful in using social networking to progress their careers.
That said, individual touches such as occasional updates on hobbies and interests can also lead to more meaningful connections with all kinds of influential people. In Google +, for instance, these contacts with similar interests can be grouped together, making it easier to ensure your updates and requests are relevant to those receiving them.
4. Tapping into knowledge
Another great opportunity for using social tools to excel comes in using them to learn about your organisation. Many companies have already established a network or blog and are using these channels to provide information about staff skills, company news and initiatives. So taking an interest in these forums and communities can be very informative.
Using social media to track company references is also a good idea. For instance, if a story about your company breaks on Twitter, and you are the first to spot it, this shows senior staff you are taking an interest in the organisation, which can impress them.
5. Time management and productivity benefits
Today's social climbers are also using these tools to help them work smarter. Most of us are familiar with being bombarded with emails that we don't have time to read and being pulled into meetings that seem to last longer than necessary.
Through thinking creatively about what social tool could do the job more effectively, you can change these time-draining practices in your company. Instant messaging, for instance, can be a time-saver when you want an answer to a question quickly.
Collaborative documents edited online by multiple people at the same time could replace some meetings. It is only through trying out different tools that you will learn these shortcuts for yourself and be seen as a more efficient member of the team.
It is important to remember that opportunistic, driven individuals are likely to grasp any opportunities that come their way to make themselves more successful. That's why they are getting ahead through using social tools.
They know that these services can help make them better informed, better connected and more productive. So if you're reading this and wondering what all the fuss is about, it could be time to open your mind to what social media can do for your own career.
Mamta Saha is a psychologist and the director of training consultancy ThinkSpa. She has worked for blue-chip companies internationally, including BP, KPMG, Accenture, Deutsche Bank, and L'Oreal.