Sitting on the Fence? Get Off! – Employees and Social Media


Employees and Social Media.  They are like peas and carrots, they just go together.  The longer you resist that, the less effective you will be in managing the associated risk.  A report on SilkRoad titled “Social Media & Workplace Collaboration” highlights some astounding statistics that might just finally get you out of your chair.

The problem with risk and lawyers is a very real reflex action.  Just say no, they say.  For those old enough to remember the adoption of e-mail, you will undoubtedly remember that some companies resisted that.  Imagine that in today’s day and age.  The same could be said for early days of the web.  The problem with employer control and social media is one that wasn’t present in those days.  YOU CAN’T CONTROL ACCESS!

Tilting at Windmills!

Turn it off!  That is the cry from the most reactionary folks when you tell them about employees and social media.  The problem is you can’t.  The report’s stats bear that out.  75% of employees access social media from their personal mobile devices.  My own experiences support this.  When investigating postings it was always interesting to note that the post was made not from a web interface, but from a mobile app.

You need to accept a little loss of control, or at least no direct control.  Think about how to exert some indirect control.  If you trust your employees to do good work, why wouldn’t you trust them to do the right thing here.  If you don’t trust your employees at all, that is a bigger problem.  Let’s assume you trust your employees to want to do the right thing.  It is your responsibility to give them examples of what that right thing is.

Training is the Key – Not Policies

I am so tired of hearing the cry that drafting policies is hard.  That the NLRB makes it practically impossible to exert any control in this space.  Stop that thinking.  Policies are direct controls.  Exerting direct controls will only cause employees desire to engage to be directed in ways you didn’t expect.  Have you checked out if any of your ‘employees’ have posted responses on

Training is the answer.  Training that highlights exemplary behavior but does not mandate specific conduct.  Training that highlights the possible personal problems with social media for employee’s personally.  If you have training, do you have a module that talks about what an employee should do if a consumer tries to pick a fight with them?  What about a customer service issue?  Some companies have the luxury of allowing any employee to handle customer service issues.  There are other companies out there that are not allowed by law for un-licensed employees to handle customer issues.  If your training doesn’t address what an un-licensed employee should do, you have some real regulatory liability to deal with.

Training does not have to be classroom training.  Most large companies say training with a capital ’T.’  It means things like developing a cadre of trainers, dedicating rooms, scheduling classes, handing out certificates and the like.  Get your mind out of the last century folks.  While I think mandatory training of that type is good for spokespeople and folks that speak for your company, it is not all that necessary for everyone else.  It is too cumbersome.  It is too old-school.  Use social technologies themselves to train.  Employee submitted videos, collaboration sites, and employee best practicers are all ways to do that.

Employee Passwords – STOP!

I want to spend a quick moment on the report’s thought that asking for passwords from employee/candidates is a rapidly evolving area of the law.  IT IS NOT!  If you really think about it, you are not asking for this type of information.  You do not want access to the private side of someone’s account.  The risks associated with that access are far too great.  In only two instances do the benefits possibly outweigh the risks.  First, if you have clear indications that the employee is misappropriating proprietary information.  The second is in instances of regulatory requirement, such as investment advisors using social to engage with customers.

Biggest Benefit

The report says that 1/2 of employees use social media to connect with other co-workers.  This is the real power of social for your company.  While employees as advocates externally is still a great reason to enable employees, the associated productivity gains with social collaboration justify almost every last bit of your investment in this space.  You need to read the reports about lost productivity with a large grain of salt ($650 billion?  Fahgetaboutit).  If you need more evidence than just my blatherings, would you believe a survey by Microsoft?

Stop Trying to Control and Work on Directing

I will close on this.  Work on proper direction of your employees.  Communicate your expectations.  Highlight that existing work conduct rules apply.  Then move on to enabling.  That is what I mean by directing.  Enable your employees with the right training, the right examples and the right culture, and they will reward those efforts with wonderful stories about customer engagement and productivity gains.  Highlight those and you will start to create a feedback loop of goodness.  Use social tools to do this.

Okay, and one more thought.  Your leaders need to be engaged as well.  They need to set the examples.  There are some real risks with C-suite executives engaging, depending on industry.  Those need to be examined.  Your next level of leadership and down should be engaged or at least aware.  With regards to not trying to control your employees, they are the audience that really needs to hear that message.

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