Welcome to the world of Work 2.0. The integration of social media into the everyday life of the workforce is becoming more and more ubiquitous. According to a recent study conducted by HR firm Silk Road, 75% of employees access social media through mobile devices while at work. Another study, released by recruitment firm Hays, finds that 1 out of every 5 job seekers automatically screen out potential employers who ban social media. In other words, both the people who work for you now and the people who could be working for you in the future are increasingly more likely to expect the ability to use social media in the workplace.
Cons of Social Media in the Workplace
- Loss in productivity. If employees are tweeting, they aren’t working. Depending on the employee and how he or she uses social media, this could very well be true. Social platforms have a game-like quality that can very easily draw your employees away from productive work. Certainly, you aren’t paying your workers to play games.
- Misrepresentation of company values. If an employee is interacting with someone via social media who knows that they work for your company, she runs the risk of her opinions being misconstrued as her company’s official position. Any polarizing updates, links, or comments posted by an employee on the social web can very easily come back on the company the employee works for.
- Disclosure of sensitive information. If employees use social media at work, there is always the risk that they will inadvertently reveal sensitive information. For example, an employee may disclose the name of a customer who does not wish to be made known or the release date of a product that the company does not want competitors to know about.
Pros of Social Media in the Workplace
- Greater employee satisfaction. Social media is fun. Enabling workers to use social media while at work increases the satisfaction they have in their work. Giving employees this freedom can decrease turnover and, according to a recent study by Robert Half Technologies, can even lead to increased productivity. A happy worker is a hard worker.
- More responsive customer service. Whole Foods is practically legendary for its use of Twitter to monitor customer comments and conversations. With over 150 accounts, based on topic and region, the health food giant has many employees providing customer service functions. Small business people can enable their employees to do the same thing. Rather than have one person monitoring online conversations or paying for an outside agency to do it, it may be beneficial to spread the customer service function embedded in social media across all of your employees.
- Greater visibility and perception of brand. Most of your employees (especially if they like their jobs and believe in their company) would be more than happy to blog, Tweet, and Pin about your company and industry. Unleashing them to use social media can reveal brand ambassadors that you never knew you had. Before long, your brand will be visible in the individual networks of all the employees that you are permitting to use social media. Moreover, your company will be seen as a company with a transparent brand that is open to inquiry and has nothing to hide.
3 Key Elements of an Effective Small Business Social Media Policy
A good social media policy juggles these pros and cons to create a roadmap for employees to use social platforms in a discreet manner. You don’t want employees to waste time watching YouTube videos all day or reveal confidential information that could change your competitive position. At the same time, you don’t want to discourage your employees. You want them to feel liberated to spread the word about your brand and how enthusiastically you serve your customers. Here are some things you might want to consider:
- When are your employees permitted to use social media? You may find it easier to simply give them free reign and allow them the autonomy of managing their own productivity. On the other hand, you may want to block out a few hours of mandatory concentration on specific work tasks. Every company is different. Find out what best fits your business and clarify the restrictions for your employees.
- How should your employees identify themselves on social platforms? Do you want employees to identify themselves as employees of your company? Or, do you want them to separate themselves with a disclaimer like, “The opinions expressed are my own?” If you want to use employees as a resource for marketing your company, you want them to identify with you but, if you want them to be effective in the social landscape, you also want to enable their personalities to shine through.
- What should your employees NOT discuss on social media? You’ll want to make it clear to your employees what they should not be discussing in social media. If you don’t want trade secrets revealed, don’t assume employees know that. Tell them. If you don’t want customers’ names or other information being discussed, tell them. The world is becoming increasingly more transparent and employees aren’t going to assume anything is a secret. You must spell it out for them.
Social media isn’t the future of business; it’s the present. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are an integral part of most of our lives. Employees are expecting to be able to use social media at work. Customers are expecting to be able to reach out to employees via social media.
Sure, you can fight the change. You can ban the social media sites on employee computers and create a strict policy that prohibits all use of social media, but you’ll only make it harder on yourself. Why fight it? Why not harness the changing environment to improve your employees’ satisfaction and enhance your brand at the same time?
Don’t just build a dam; build a canal. Create an effective social media policy for your small business that redirects your employees’ passion for social media toward the advocacy of your business.