Using social media at work is a highly contentious issue, and one that in my view characterizes the difference between theory X and theory Y managers (I’m with theory Y – reward and encouragement are far better motivators than control or criticism). A managerial approach that assumes employees need supervision by default will naturally extend to controlling employees’ access to social media; an approach centered on respecting workers’ autonomy is likely to be more conducive to unrestricted access.
Social networking builds a range of skills that are good for both the employee and workplace. It exposes the user to new ideas; promotes cultural awareness; facilitates work/life balance and even just provides distraction, which can be useful in creating the breaks needed to maintain productivity when completing long tasks. Taking a break to use Facebook has been shown to boost productivity in research undertaken by MIT.
Active participation in social networks can harness your employees as the eyes and ears of your organization, helping to head off crises before they gain critical mass. It can also build up individual skills, allowing employees to engage in industry debates, read up on industry news and hone their critical faculties. It can be difficult to determine what constitutes ‘work related’ and what doesn’t, so don’t try to – trust your employee to make this distinction, and to determine the best way for them to allocate their own time in order to meet their targets.
But the biggest benefit for companies is the ability to prepare workers for the socially networked future. Organizations that understand social media and embed it in their working practices will be able to harness it to communicate positively about their products, services and working environment. With social networks influencing everything from your Google ranking to consumer behavior, this is critical in marketing your business.
By bringing social networks into the office, you help to increase the likelihood of positive sentiments being expressed on them. And by actively encouraging social media use, you can help to transform your employees into product and brand ambassadors. Social media isn’t just the domain of the few people tasked with delivering your digital marketing; it’s the domain of every person who speaks about your brand. So make sure that the people on your payroll have plenty of reasons to speak positively about yours.
An enlightened employer’s social media policy
- Tweet, Facebook, Google+ and get LinkedIn with impunity. Comment on newspaper articles, join forums and blog. Have fun taking pictures and instagramming, pinning or flickring as much as you like. Browse, read and engage in whatever you like – whether it’s work related or not. If it’s important to you, you should pursue it.
- Make it clear whether your views represent those of your employer or yourself.
- Never disclose confidential information on social networks. Protect others’ privacy and data.
- Don’t add to the sum of human misery. Never say anything on a social network that you wouldn’t be prepared to say to a person’s face, including figures in the public eye.
- The art of good communication places a premium on listening over speaking – this applies to social media too.
- Never, ever spam or hustle on social networks. It doesn’t work and can damage your reputation.
- Don’t feed the trolls. If in doubt, take a few minutes to check out the posting history of the person that you’re talking to. If their previous interactions are negative, don’t continue – cut your losses and leave.
- Remember that what you write could be online forever – even if you later delete it. Be careful about what you discuss, and never make disparaging remarks about yourself or your employer.
- Use good English (where space allows); good spelling and grammar demonstrate professionalism.
Social networks provide you with a unique opportunity to showcase your skills and talents, so use them. Follow your interests and passions, and success will follow you.