Embrace social networking so that you don't suck on Google
11 May 2009 8:40am
Most managers hold "misinformed" opinions about social networking sites and should embrace - and guide employees in - their use, says HR technology consultant, Michael Specht.
If you type your company name and "sucks" into Google and are shocked by what comes up, it's probably time to develop a comprehensive social-media policy, he says.
While social media sites are not "silver bullets" for an organisation's problems, employers that attempt to block their use in the workplace are not only fighting an uphill battle, but are missing out on an opportunity to exert some control over what is said about the company online, Specht told delegates at an FCB Workplace Lawyers breakfast on Friday.
Internet social networking is here to stay, Specht says, noting that some 75 per cent of Australian adults use social media tools at least once a month, and more than five million Australians have a Facebook account. Twitter has experienced 1000 per cent growth over the last four months, he says, and more than 15 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
Consequently, Specht says, employers concerned about confidential information leaks or the proliferation of bad press are right to be wary - especially since any information uploaded to the net is cached within seconds, and is unlikely ever to be removed.
He notes, however, that most of the negative opinions that managers hold on social networking sites are "misinformed".
"You have more risk of losing confidential information through a USB stick or an accidental email than through social networking," he says.
A social-media policy and its benefits
Specht says that with laptops, smart phones and programs that override firewalls, attempting to block employee access to networking sites is all but futile.
Employee education, however, is an effective way to reduce leaks and inappropriate use of confidential company content through social tools.
Through a comprehensive, documented social-media policy - which highlights best-practice principles - employees can be encouraged to:
be factual about their employer;
speak in the first person, so that it is clear they are only expressing their own views;
avoid posting when angry or in a hurry;
avoid sarcasm or participating in online squabbles;
treat colleagues with respect - avoiding, for instance, "defriending" workmates on Facebook;
quickly acknowledge mistakes and make them right; and
add value to the organisation by posting positive company information.
A social media policy should address the use of company tools, the appropriate or maximum amount of time that employees should spend on networking sites, and the implications of non-compliance, Specht says.
"But you don't want a policy that employees will dutifully sign and ignore," he says.
The policy must also fit in with the corporate culture, not only embrace but encourage the use of social tools, and show a respect and understanding of the ground rules and lingo of specific media forums.
Employers, Specht says, can in turn expect to see:
enhanced and more positive communication, both inside and outside the organisation;
cost-effective and expanded connections with customers. "You can't sell something to someone if you don't have a relationship with them";
engaged and empowered employees;
a drop in turnover;
an increase in knowledge retention;
productivity improvements; and
an overall increase in people talking about their organisation, whether online or otherwise.
Lyndal Yee, of FCB, who was also speaking at the breakfast, says that there are a number of legal implications stemming from the use and misuse of social media in the workplace.
Employers, she says, need to be wary when it comes to:
bullying - the internet has facilitated new vehicles for harassment, also known as "cyber bullying";
discrimination - denying or limiting an employee's access to opportunities, for instance, due to personal information or a personal characteristic ascertained from a social tool;
misuse of confidential information - uploading photos and images, for instance, could have implications for the protection of intellectual property, including logos; and
damage to brand reputation - through employee backlash against redundancies or pay cuts.
To address these issues, Yee says, employers must develop or update relevant policies and ensure they are regularly reviewed and communicated to staff.
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