It used to be a given that, when you saw the blue screen of Facebook or the smug Twitter bird, you could be sure that there was time being wasted. That’s why somewhere around 30 percent of companies still banned social media use as of 2011. Even 67 percent of employees said they think Twitter, Facebook and everything else should be banished from the workplace.

So let’s contrast that with the recent remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations from IBM CEO Ginni Rommetty about the role of social media in the office:

“Understand the social network not as your new water cooler, but as your new production line.”

The statement definitely caught some attention. Is Rommetty saying that social media is now a useful work tool? If so, should every employee be frantically trying to get more followers on Twitter? Do offices still even have water coolers?

The Age of Professional Social Media Use

“Professional social media use” was kind of an oxymoron until very recently. Just mixing the word “professional” with the phrase “social media” still sounds a little weird.

Rommetty sums up this sentiment  precisely: a lot of employers see social media as a new and innovative channel for lightning-fast gossip… and not much else.

Sure, some companies may admit that social media marketing through corporate Facebook pages and Twitter accounts can be a great way to connect with customers and build relationships, but that’s about as far as the experiment goes.

When it comes to the idea that employees should be able to use social media at work— and that their social media use could actually benefit the business – that still seems a little outlandish to some. But Rommetty is convinced, and the fact is that social networks have become very powerful networking tools. You just need to know where to look.

Here are the four of the top professional social channels that all companies should encourage employees to use:

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn groups
  • Google+
  • Facebook Business Pages

What Professional Social Media Use Does

Professional social media use turns everyone into a representative of their company and can connect industry peers like never before. More collaboration and faster collaboration benefits everybody.

Take PR, for example. When once you would connect with a reporter or blogger over email and wait a few days for a response (if you were lucky), social media allows you to pitch someone instantly and proactively showcase content that can get covered.

That’s important, considering more than half of journalists are using Twitter and 26 percent said that they use it to find stories from sources they don’t know.

This is why social media has become a production line:  the more employees who use social media to talk about their work, the more exposure the work gets. The more exposure the work gets, the more buzz it creates.

On the Internet, Presence Wins

Whether you’re trying to generate new leads, get some coverage for a press release, or sell a product, the key is to build up your online presence with unique content and compelling conversations. There’s no better way to do this than by creating online content and getting social.

In the era of professional social media use, the most active, dynamic and creative company wins. So, next time you see Twitter on the screen at work, make sure you see what the Tweet is about before you pass judgment. That next 140-character quip about your industry may just end up bringing in some new business.

What do you think about professional social media use? Can it be about production or is it still mostly procrastination?