Use of social media has exploded in recent years. From retailers to banks, businesses across every sector of the economy are embracing social media as a tool for reaching out to their customers – and not always that successfully.
But while sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have unquestionably revolutionised the way companies interact with consumers, what benefits are there for the treasurer who uses these social media platforms?
Although some would still dismiss this kind of communication as an unnecessary distraction, a significant number of treasurers are now beginning to see the benefits that social media can bring to their job roles. According to Matt Rhodes, Strategy Director at FreshNetworks, a leading social media consultancy, participating in these types of public forums has advantages similar in many ways to attending a business convention.
“We often think that it is a little bit like a conference” says Rhodes. “If you attend a conference for say treasury professionals, people can come along that do not know each other and speak to one other.Then once they see their job titles are similar they can work out what their problems and challenges are, work out what they have in common with one another, and start a conversation.”
It can, Rhodes says, also be a particularly useful resource for finding individuals to learn from who may have experience in an area that they do not. This could potentially help to improve professional performance. Moreover, it could reduce an individual’s dependence on colleagues and other people they know in their day-to-day work.
“Say that you work in the insurance business and you are going to be visiting a particular type of factory for the first time. You know generally what to look for, but you may not know the niceties or the challenges of insuring that particular industry. Whereas if you can find somebody else who is non-competitive, who knows a little bit about that specific industry, then you can probably get some help” he says.
“So now it is a lot easier to find a LinkedIn group to ask questions and get answers. And it enables you to find people who have little pockets of expertise that you need that you wouldn’t have been able to find before” he adds.
The treasurer’s reality
A quick glance at the activity on discussion groups on the LinkedIn website reveals that an increasing number of treasurers do indeed share Rhodes’ conviction on the value of social media. However, not all treasurers are fully convinced that such sites are of a huge benefit to them in their professional roles. Ellen Cornelissen, Director of Treasury at Aleris Switzerland GmbH, says that while she is member of LinkedIn she does not find it helps her much in her role as a treasurer. “I just want to see what is going on in the market. I see a lot of questions, but I don’t participate a lot myself because half of the time the questions are irrelevant for me or it is not my area. I’m a member just to see what’s going on, to keep my finger on the ball and keep in touch with my peers.”
“What I would do in what you would call the social media ‘sphere’ is rather to participate in peer group discussions with a moderator hosted by industry groups and associations. Recently we had a couple of peer sessions with one moderator presenting on items such as the Eurozone crisis, where you meet up on the phone with about 20 people with a web presentation. And that is definitely something I would keep my time free for”, she adds.
One of Cornelissen’s principle concerns is security. Sharing information over a privately hosted peer group discussion is one thing, but communicating potentially sensitive company information through a public forum such as LinkedIn, she thinks, poses an unacceptable risk.
“Although it is a business network, LinkedIn is essentially a social media network like Facebook and personally I wouldn’t share any company relevant information on those networks – other than what is already available on the internet. And that is one of the restrictions that I see in participating. When I do take part in web based peer group discussions there is always an agreement that you do not share information unless you have approval. For me, anything else is a big no.”
FreshNetworks’ Rhodes agrees that security remains a concern when it comes to social media used by individuals in a professional capacity. Individuals sometimes forget that when using websites such as LinkedIn that they are representing their companies, not just themselves. This, he believes, can occasionally lead to some ill-advised comments.
The solution, he says, is to lay down clear guidelines for staff. This is likely to be a much more effective solution than prohibiting your staff from using social media in a professional capacity altogether, he says.
“The best way of getting over that, without being too restrictive, is just having clear guidelines about what you can and cannot do,” he says. “What you need is just to be open with people, and say this is what we want as a business; this is how we comment on matters; and these are the people who are allowed to do it. And if you’re going to comment on topics related to your work it is really important that you recognise you are representing the company. So really it is just about having clear rules and regulations and making sure everybody knows what the rules of the game are.”