Does social media belong in the workplace?

“Red faces at retailer as dozens of staff post insulting comments about its customers on internet forum”U.K. Daily Mail

“Nearly half of office employees access Facebook during work”Nucleus Research

“Employees publish inappropriate pictures of customers online”

As headlines like these become increasingly common, many organizations are debating whether employees should have access to social media at work. Like it or not, the popularity of blogs, YouTube, Twitter and other media is creating a new wave of change that affects all organizations. More than just an online water cooler, social media provides an opportunity for all stakeholders—including clients, members and employees— to congregate and share news, collaborate on new ideas, and build a community.

For many organizations, the risks to productivity, information security and reputation are simply too great to allow employees free access. Yet, for every one that bans employee use of social media, there are five others that embrace it as a primary communication platform.

Consider electronics retailer Best Buy. CEO Brian Dunn regularly records important employee meetings and presentations, and posts these as video news broadcasts on YouTube to engage Best Buy’s young, tech-savvy employees. Fact is, the company’s newest generation of employees are already going to YouTube for news and information. More importantly, Best Buy can easily gauge employee thinking through the comments and discussions on its postings. YouTube offers a transparent view of Best Buy’s culture and management philosophy that just can’t be equalled or duplicated.

Just as organizations had to figure out how to deal with email and the internet (and the telephone for that matter) we now have to figure out how to deal with Facebook and a host of other new social media. In fact, smart organizations are already on top of this. They understand that if they don’t provide a social media platform, their employees will go out and build their own. By giving them a leg up, they can have some control over the process and understand what their stakeholders are thinking and saying along the way.


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So, how can you introduce social media into the workplace while steering clear of some of the pitfalls? You can start with a well-communicated social media policy. Here are five key considerations in developing your policy:

1. Foster trustThe policy should emphasize the advantages of social media for both employees and the organization. Focusing on the consequences of misuse will only create doubt and suspicion. By placing the emphasis on what employees can do rather than what they can’t, the policy will help to foster trust and confidence in your social media platform.

Promote responsibility

Your policy should encourage employees to share their comments and opinions. With that, employees need to take ownership for what they write, and exercise good judgement. The anonymity of social media can be misinterpreted by some people as free rein to say anything they like with impunity. The policy should encourage employees to use their names and titles, acknowledging who they are and their affiliation to the organization.

3. Protect confidentiality and proprietary informationYour policy should point to existing organizational values and policies on confidentiality, ethics, security, etc. These values and policies extend to all forms of communication, including social media, both inside the workplace and outside the workplace where employees represent the organization.

Consider the audienceThe policy should encourage employees to consider how far their audience might extend and avoid alienating organizational stakeholders, including:

– clients and potential clients,

– current, past and future employees

– members and shareholders

– and any other groups that are important to the organization.

5. Weigh its usefulnessWhere communication with others is an important part of the job, social media can add a great deal of value. But there’s always the danger of too much of a good thing. Your policy should address the need to balance social media with other communication methods, and to weigh its usefulness in any given situation.

Of course, even the best-crafted policy won’t eliminate all risk, but that shouldn’t be your goal. Successful social media is self-regulated by its users. Any platform that’s too tightly controlled can lose its credibility—and its traffic.

Dooced” – Internet slang meaning to lose one’s job because of stupid things said on a blog or website.

Susan Deller is a Principal in the Toronto office of Eckler Ltd. with over 20 years of communications consulting experience in the benefits industry.

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