Webster defines social media as forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content. When we discuss social media, Facebook immediately comes to mind for the majority of people. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as it’s been said that if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in terms of population – which is bigger than the United States. Other than Facebook, social media could be a blog, Twitter, Linked In, podcasts, even You Tube. Any site a person visits to interact with others could be deemed social media. We are constantly faced with the social media dilemma in the workplace. Is it appropriate? Should it be allowed? Do we need a policy? How do we control the content? How does this fit into this particular workplace? As it is with life, things change, and with this change we need to look at how it affects our workplace and how to use it to our benefit with a complete understanding of what the risks of social media really are. There is no complete list of risks. We each have to take the time to analyze how social media could be a risk to our particular workplace, but here are a few risks to get you started. For some they may be big risks, for others they may not matter whatsoever.
Allowing the use of social media during work hours could potentially be lost time resulting in lower productivity. (Although research says that if your employees are checking social media during work hours, but non-work related activity, the majority of these people are only checking once or twice daily.)
There is the potential that social media could be a negative impact to the organization depending on what is said about the organization or its members/associates in posts.
A potential for errors in work could occur due to the distractions caused by social media. In this case errors must be fixed resulting in more time spent doing tasks or a subpar product being provided to our customer.
There could be a legal liability due to content found on social media regarding the organization or the people in it. In these instances it is imperative that employees are educated in company policy, federal or state regulations, and don’t do anything that violates any of these regulations.
By not being involved in social media or by restricting your employee’s involvement in social media, you risk being viewed as out of touch or out of date.
Along with risk comes benefits, and again no list is complete. You may be able to list 100’s of benefits and you may look at my list and not see how any of my thoughts could be considered a benefit in your situation, but let’s give it a fighting chance.
You can reach a larger number of people to promote your organization, your new product, your marketing campaign, your fundraiser, your cause… your whatever… at little to no cost.
Social media may have a positive impact on your organization by employee posts and related comments. I snuck this in there because it really works both ways.
You can use social media strategically – to target certain groups or to analyze a particular niche. Whatever your cause there may be data readily available. Answers could be nothing more than a few clicks away.
Networking. Business is about networking. You literally have millions of people at your fingertips.
Advice. We actually used Linked In to get advice on computer software. We had several responses and got great advice from users. Worked like a charm.
Stay connected with your younger generation. Those employees that are currently in college or recently graduated are of two generation groups – Gen AO (Always on Generation) – these employees have grown up in a continuously connected world and to information. They count on the internet as an extension of their brain. Gen Z (or Gen I) – they are the Internet and Digital Generation. These generations are wired technologically. Use their knowledge to strengthen and build your team, your organization and your client base. You play into their hands when you allow them the freedom to use social media.
Build relationships. Social media is about communities. It takes relationships to build those communities. Within those communities are your customers. Find them!
Social media is a place where you can go to see what your competitors are up to. What is it you’re up against?
Social media is also a place you can go to gain knowledge about your customers and to learn their wants and needs.
Find answers to your questions. Find solutions to your problems. Find good ideas.
I’m not advocating one way or another for the use of social media. Every leader has three options when it comes to social media – 1) allow the use; 2) ban access; or 3) allow access with limits. My thoughts are this: I believe that most people are responsible adults. They know what’s expected of them. Most people who are on social media sites at work are not wasting hours per day on these sites. I also believe that if employees are trusted to do their jobs, and given the proper education and tools they will accomplish whatever is put before them. If you allow your employees to use social media during work hours then be proactive. Create a policy for social media. Educate them on those policies, and any state or federal laws they should be aware of before sharing information on social media. If you find yourself with an employee who misuses social media then follow whatever disciplinary action you have set forth in the policy – and follow through up to and including termination. Do not risk the reputation of your organization for one employee. Whether you choose to embrace social media or not, keep in mind that you cannot stop or control the use of social media outside of the workplace. You may have policies that detail what can and cannot be posted, and let your employees know you will be monitoring the use of social media. Being able to have honest and open conversations with your employees on the use of social media and how it affects their workplace will help reduce the negative risks and provide a clear understanding of what is expected of your employees in this ever-changing world of social media. If you would like to share you views on social media, please friend us on Facebook and start a dialogue. We look forward to hearing your opinions.