[IMGCAP(1)] Social media is all the rage. From Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn, everyone absolutely adores the potential social media promises. However, can social media actually produce tangible results for your company?

I think it can, but not in acquiring new clients; using social media to acquire new customers has not yet been figured out in a cost and time-effective manner. Of course, hundreds of thousands of new customers are just waiting to be found through social media, but a proven, repeatable methodology has not yet been established.

The area in which I believe social media can help your firm or company is with employee retention and recruitment, two areas organizations do not necessarily associate with social media.

Bottom Line Benefits
Common sense tells us that effective employee retention and recruitment is critical to success, but how does this translate to the bottom line? According to Robin Rolfe Resources, the average employee turnover rate is 26 percent across U.S. industry, and the costs for a new hire range from 50 to 200 percent of a departing employee’s salary.

The first part of the retention/recruitment equation is retaining good employees. Logic says that the better you are at employee retention, the less you’ll have to recruit new employees to take the places of those who left – which carries a very significant cost in terms of time and resources.

Employees committed to their jobs and to their employers are far less likely to leave than those who maintain a state of mental separation between their job and personal life. If someone is personally “bought in” to their role in the broader picture of what their company does, not only are they more likely to stay, but they are also more likely to give it their all each and every day.

How Social Media Improves Retention

Encouraging employees to establish and maintain a social media presence that fully reflects their job and company responsibilities can greatly enhance the pride they take in their work. Many people and companies want to separate personal from business when it comes to social media. Not only do I think this is a mistake – it’s not practical.

In the age of the Internet, nothing is a secret – information is only a Google search away, so why not be 100 percent transparent when establishing your Facebook profile and include all aspects of your life that are public knowledge?

If you allow and encourage employees to include their role and company information in their social media identities, they will feel connected to the presence they are establishing. With an increasing amount of time being spent in social media channels, our social media identities are quickly converging with our “real life” identities.

Social Media Helps Recruit New Employees
Recruiting and hiring great people is always a challenge for any size company, especially smaller businesses that might not offer the amenities of their larger counterparts. Most likely, you don’t have the resources or time you’d like to have to devote to recruitment, even though it’s one of the most important strategic activities you do as a company. If you hire poorly, the effort you’ll expend trying to straighten out – and eventually get rid of – an underperforming employee, will be agonizing.

Instead of considering it an ancillary function, I believe the best way to think of the recruitment function is always be thinking about it, and the best way to do this is to constantly be passively recruiting, with a steady stream of inbound candidates coming your way.

What’s one good way to continually recruit? You guessed it – social media!

We’re in the age of constantly watching what our friends and family are doing at all times via Facebook and Twitter updates. Just scored some tickets to the latest concert? Better update that Facebook status!

Why not use these interpersonal channels to let your employees share how cool your company is? Often the best source of a new hire is through a referral, particularly from a great employee, so let them talk up your company or firm in your social media interactions!

Free Reign on Social Media = Trust
At Chrometa, we take a mostly laissez faire approach to our employees’ use of social media, with no official policies or restriction on what employees are allowed to do. I know this thinking is counterintuitive to what many accounting and consulting firms, and many companies, believe, but I think this boils down to a control issue more than anything else. It’s sort of similar to being told as a child not to get into the cookie jar. If organizations set up policies dictating certain actions, employees are more likely to violate these policies if they feel they can succeed without being noticed.

Each of our employees is encouraged to set up and maintain a presence on “The Big 3” social media channels – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Their participation levels, on the other hand, are completely up to them. A couple of our employees really enjoy and benefit, both personally and professionally, from their time on Facebook and Twitter. Ironically, our chief technical officer generally dislikes social media and personally avoids it.

At the core of our “free reign” is trust. We trust that our employees are 100 percent devoted to the success of our company, mission and brand. As a result, I have complete trust they will not represent us poorly; to do so would be like representing themselves poorly. This level of trust is only possible if employees completely self-identify with their job and firm/company.

How Much Time is Too Much Time?
I personally have spent too much time on many occasions on the Big 3 and blogs without achieving what I’d consider a reasonable ROI on my time. Going forward, I know I need to more accurately gauge the amount of time I should spend on each medium.

It’s not completely fair and accurate when people proclaim, “Twitter is a complete waste of time” because they probably just don’t understand what it can do. Twitter can be a drain, but it can also be useful if used properly and marketed to your stakeholders. Like anything, if you spend too much time on Twitter, you can end up wasting a lot of time if you don’t use it wisely.

How-much-time-too-much-time is something everyone must figure out for themselves. I give our employees the leeway to decide how much time is too much. I know that each one of them honestly wants to be productive and perform their role to the best of their ability. Because I know this, I find it’s better if they figure out these types of limits and best practices themselves, instead of having them come as edicts from above.

Embrace Social Media for Retention and Recruitment
Social media is not going away – it’s only going to increase in our professional and person lives. While it’s a fact employees are spending more time on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, you’re best served to embrace social media and make it work for you.

Social media can have significant beneficial effects for your company’s retention and recruitment. When used properly, it can cement your company or firm in the self-identity of your employees – and help them passively recruit a steady stream of new candidates.

Brett Owens is chief executive and co-founder of Chrometa, a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of time-tracking software that records activity in real time. Brett can be reached at 916-254-0260 or brett@chrometa.com.