Social Media for Managers

by Theresa Truscott

Ban social media at work?

Generally, a policy banning all social media at work is not a good idea. Not only does this create an environment of furtive activity (let’s face it, employees will find a way to use it if they really want to!), it will also do more to diminish employee morale than a different approach. Much of the question of what people are allowed to do on the internet during work hours rests on the culture of the organisation, the policy on acceptable behaviour in the workplace and how much internet access is required to do the job effectively.

  • Employees will feel empowered when they are ‘allowed in’ to the realm of a policy that is expressed as partnership rather than domination. Empowered employees are more effective and productive.
  • No link has been demonstrated between improved employee performance and restrictions on social media. In fact, blocking and restricting access to social media, based on unproven productivity concerns may well make organisations less competitive, less efficient and less productive.
  • A simple IT mandate to block social networking sites does little if anything to protect an employer legally.

Briefly, it is essential that employees are trained how to use social media effectively and how to behave while online. Clear expectations will not only let employees know they are being monitored (which in itself is a deterrent), but also give them a sense of accountability and knowledge that they are viewed as mature and responsible individuals.

What about tablets, smartphones, mobiles and so on?

With technology advancing daily, mobiles and other devices are becoming embedded in our society.

The negative aspects to employees having their own personal phones include the near constant attention being paid to the employee’s new gadget. Mobiles and other devices make it simple to text a message to a significant other, take a ‘quick call’, play games and now even surf the internet. There is often a desire to constantly manage these high tech devices. With the ongoing diversions, production can be lowered and quality is diminished.

Striking a balance as to what is acceptable mobile phone etiquette in your company can be difficult to attain. More than 40 per cent of corporations in the UK have adopted in house rules detailing when and where employees can use their phones and under what conditions they may accept calls. The important thing is that any policy must be clear and everyone should be made aware of and held accountable to it.

And when someone wastes time on Twitter or Facebook?

What should you do about someone who spends work time on their personal Twitter or Facebook account? Some companies restrict access to these sites so that only key people can update them as part of their job role. This is not a complete solution, however, as many people now have access to such sites on their mobile devices.

This situation should be handled in the same way as any other breach of policy, such as poor time keeping. First, be clear of the facts. Is the person actually spending time during work hours or is it just happening during their break time? If your company includes social media in a marketing plan, is the individual using the accounts for personal reasons or as part of their role to develop new avenues of customer engagement? Most importantly, is their social media use affecting their productivity or that of other people?

Again, much of the situation depends on the culture of the organisation. Were expectations effectively communicated? Should this be a one-to-one conversation or would it be more effective to remind the whole team about policy and the expectations on social media?

It is important to have a good HR and social media policy in place so all legal aspects are covered and people know the behaviour that is expected of them. If your organisation doesn’t have anything in place to cover this, then see Things your people should do and Things your people should NOT do.

Can I restrict access to social media sites?

With most things IT, it is not a matter of ‘can’ but ‘should’. There is little that cannot be accomplished with the right firewall configuration, but is it beneficial to your organisation? When the latter is answered in the affirmative, there are several possible avenues one can take.

  1. You can have a blanket ban on any internet access.
  2. You can restrict access to certain types of site.
  3. You can restrict access to certain job roles.
  4. You can restrict access to the internet during core working hours, but allow access during lunch and certain hours before and after work.
  5. You can allow unlimited access to everyone.

A blanket ban on internet access can be very limiting for the company. It means that people cannot easily do research that would make them more effective and efficient in their role. It also means that certain channels are closed to the company for customer care.

Having completely unlimited access can bring its own problems because there is more potential for a breach in security and attacks from viruses. Many companies choose to have this policy, however, as it treats their employees as adults and expects them to take responsibility for their own actions.

Restricting access to certain times, sites or job roles can be a good way forward if you feel there is a real problem, but it is a fine balancing act that is not easy to get right:

  • There is quite a heavy administrative overhead from the IT department or supplier
  • It can be frustrating for people who need to access certain sites legitimately, but must request access or find someone who does have access to get the information they need.

Internet use policy versus social media policy

A social media policy can be created in addition to an internet policy and should focus on the distinction between personal and business use, defined simply by the account owner. A business is able to set up a business account on all social media/networking sites and allow access, use and monitoring of these accounts by one or several employees. Personal accounts can be limited or altogether avoided at work, though you may make an exception allowing personal users to interact with, post and respond to your business account.

An internet use policy usually dictates what is deemed to be ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ internet browsing behaviour in the workplace. This policy should typically enforce time restrictions as well as stipulating what genres of sites employees are allowed to browse.

Both policies, however, should clearly define what the company views as acceptable and/or excessive. For instance, brief and occasional personal use of the internet may be acceptable, providing it is not inappropriate and occurs during personal time (lunch or other breaks).