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Should staff have access to social media at work?

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An increasing number of businesses are banning their employees from using social media at work.

While I can understand this short-sighted thinking (who wants their employees to be mucking around on Facebook instead of doing work?), I think there is a bigger debate to be had. It’s time to wake upand smell the coffee.

The world around us is changing, and our means of communicating with others is shifting. Social networking is becoming very much a part of our personal and professional communication mix.

Like many others, I don’t need a computer to tweet, link or even blog. I can use my smartphone, iPod or even my iPad. Most of your employees can also use their phone to access their social networking accounts, too. If they want to take a “social networking” break (the new “fag” break), they’ll do so regardless of whether or not they’re allowed to use the firm’s IT systems.

Banning your employees from using LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter at work is actually stopping them from using three very powerful online networking tools, which they could use to develop relationships with potential clients. Do you really want to limit your employees’ potential to bring in new business?

If you need proof to let your employees use social media, a recent study found that 48 per cent of people on social media would recommend their company’s products and services while 22 per cent wouldn’t – a net score of +26 per cent. Can you afford not to have your employees advocating your services?

What’s the solution?

Banning access to social media is a short-sighted solution to a problem that isn’t going to go away. The solution is simple: good quality people management and leadership. This involves three things:

1. Having a social media policy in place that clearly states what is and isn’t an acceptable use of social media (whether in work or not in work) For example:

  • Are drunk pictures appearing of a member of staff? I’m assuming that you would want them to untag themselves and ask for the offending photo to be removed from public viewing. (As much for their future career prospects as well as the firm’s reputation!)
  • Standard pieces of copy for their LinkedIn profiles about the firm, and links for them to use on their LinkedIn profile to the company website.
  • The ownership of company data – for example, it is not acceptable to trawl through the company’s mailing list in an attempt to link to everyone on the database on LinkedIn.

2. A process of monitoring conversations online. This is very easily done by using automated searches. Your IT specialist should be able to set this up for you.

3. A programme of training for staff: how to use social networking tools productively; how to enhance their personal brand (good for their career prospects); and how to network online (helpful to generate new clients for the firm).

What are your thoughts?

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.

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