Where Does Social Media Fit in the Modern Workplace?

Julie Shenkman
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Social media has become an integral part of the personal lives of many people, but it isn't always clear how it fits in the modern workplace. Every savvy marketer knows it can be an effective tool for reaching customers and growing the brand, but it comes with a variety of potential pitfalls as well. Because of this, companies need to establish clear policies to guide employee usage of social media at work.

Social media offers a number of relatively obvious benefits for businesses. Employers looking to hire can use networking platforms such as LinkedIn to recruit top talent. Customer service staff can use mainstream sites to connect directly with customers and address their concerns. Employees who are active on social media can act as ambassadors for the organization, promoting the products and services to a wide range of possible customers.

On the downside, it has the potential to distract employees from fulfilling their responsibilities. For this reason, some organizations are implementing policies that restrict the amount of time that employees can spend on social media during work hours. Some companies have gone as far as to block the most popular sites entirely.

In addition to being a distraction, social media can also be a liability if it is used to present negative information about the company. It provides a platform that employees can use to immediately broadcast their views to a wide audience. And once an opinion has been posted, it can't be taken back. One irresponsible comment made by a thoughtless or disgruntled worker can bring unwanted and possibly damaging controversy to a company's door.

A 2010 survey conducted by Manpower Inc. involving more than 4,000 employers revealed that three quarters of companies had no formal policy governing social media usage in the workplace. It is becoming increasingly clear that this needs to change. Companies such as Domino's Pizza and KitchenAid have already faced huge public backlashes due to the postings of a single employee.

In order to protect their reputations, businesses need to set clear guidelines regarding what employees can and cannot post about the company on social media. They should provide guidance for employees to become positive advocates for the brand, as well as controversial topics that should be avoided. When restricting employees' use of social media, managers need to be careful not to alienate their workforces. Employees are more likely to accept a limit than a complete ban, which many professionals regard as patronizing and authoritarian.

Additionally, one-on-one communication should be used to help implement the policy. If social media is affecting a particular employee's productivity, that individual's manager needs to discuss the issue and provide guidance regarding acceptable social media usage during the workday. This is also a good opportunity to discuss any other challenges that the employee is having which could be affecting his motivation and performance.

Social media can be an undeniable asset in the modern workplace, but it also has the potential to be a major distraction or an outright liability. Organizations need to put clear policies in place to govern the use of social media in at work so that all employees know how to use this helpful tool appropriately to help, rather than hurt, the business.


Photo courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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