Whether you hail the new frontier or curse the modern nuisance, there is no doubt social media has changed the game for us all. Never before have we been so obsessed with trading and acquiring of information or laid ourselves so bare in the pursuit of it. We are regularly warned of the dangers of social media usage, yet many are still caught out, with repercussions ranging from mild embarrassment to legal action.
The use of social media in the workplace was always going to be riddled with ethical conundrums, particularly with use in a personal capacity. When we were first introduced to Facebook, Bebo, Twitter and Myspace it was about sharing information with selected friends and an extended social circle. We used it to reconnect with people from our past and display pictures of our latest holiday, the latter was a marvellous development in the eyes of Ethics Girl: no more subjection to arduous two-hour holiday presentations at friend’s homes accompanied by increasingly threatening warnings not to fingerprint the originals. We also used it as a quick and efficient way to make our social arrangements.
Of course, bringing these new worlds of communication into the workplace was obviously going to blur the boundaries between personal and work life. I am not going to regale you with tales of social media use gone wrong, or statistics detailing the hours wasted each day though unauthorised use – you have read it all before, possibly via some form of social media. We all know the proliferation of social media in the workplace has lead to an ethical tangle but it has also sown some interesting debates: is it ethical to use social media to check out job candidates? Is it unethical to complain about a bad day via your personal accounts, even if there is no mention of your employer on your page? What do you do if you find out an employee has been making inappropriate or bullying remarks that are nothing to do with work but could potentially damage your businesses reputation by association? These are the quandaries of the modern age, and ones that we all need to think about each time we advance towards the computer with intent to post.
Here are my top tips for getting it right…
When using social media in the workplace, for business or pleasure, solicited or unsolicited I have this simple piece of advice: Don’t be an idiot. Think before you click. You shouldn’t post anything online that you wouldn’t be happy to say out loud in the office, or explain to your boss.
For managers and those implementing the social media strategy the most important thing you can do is trust. Trust your fellow employees to do the right thing. Involve everyone in the company in the implementation of social media and offer training for everyone who wants to know how to use the channels you have chosen.
Establish your position. Think about the channels that are most relevant to your business and stick to those methods of communication, integrating them to make sure your message is consistent.
It is important to be ‘social’ inside if you are going to be social outside. Gareth Jones of Brubaker PR says communicating internally via social media channels has replaced water-cooler conversation: by opening up the chat to everyone in the company you encourage engagement and interaction. Allow the use of social media within your business to have an element of fun.
The workman shouldn’t blame his tools; don’t blame social media itself if you have an employee who is using a large amount of work time to access personal accounts. If you have persistent offenders spending hours trawling sites for entertainment, it would suggest they are not feeling motivated or are disengaged. Allowing employees ‘brain breaks’ is a good idea all round; no one is productive all day every day, and a five minute Facebook browse is often sufficient to get them ‘back in the room’.
Set out the rules. Establish a proper policy surrounding use – assess the risks and make sure all employees are aware of them. Make the boundaries for use on behalf of the company and personal use totally clear. Advise employees on how to protect their accounts and provide guidance on how to address the ethical issues involved. Review the policy regularly: the online world moves fast, and you need to make sure these developments are reflected in your policy.
Social media is here to stay and is changing the way we work for good. You can’t ignore it so you might as well befriend it. You never know – it may turn out to be the best friend you never had.