Social media is an important part of many peoples’ lives these days, and will likely be for the foreseeable future. Many companies have been quick to see the potential for social media in everything from marketing to recruitment. Quite a few have also discovered the potential of getting their employees involved, as ambassadors, thought leaders and so on. But they have not been as quick when it comes to helping their employees deal with social media in a way that benefits both them and the organization.
I believe it’s important for organizations to have clearly documented guidelines on how they view social media in general, and their employees engaging with it in particular. And those guidelines can’t be limited to only defining social media in terms of risk, breach of confidentiality and ethics, although those are important factors too. What I’m talking about are guidelines that can help your employees understand the impact social media can have on their lives and help them navigate between their personal life and their work-life.
Let me give you some examples:
1. The well-meaning employee who becomes an informal helpdesk or takes on a role representing the company. This is often done from the best intentions, but can lead to very negative consequences. Employees might start out answering innocent or simple questions, and then be faced with questions involving company decisions or strategies that they have no knowledge of and are not permitted to answer. In addition, they might not be ready to take on that responsibility, nor indeed should they have to.
Tip: Your social media guidelines should address this, with specific examples. That way you can advise your employees not to get involved as employees. If they are interested in being active, make sure they get training and coaching.
2. The well-meaning employee #2 that feels that the company should have a larger presence in social media, and takes it on him or herself to create that presence. It can be a Facebook page, a LinkedIn group or an Instagram account. Again, he or she is acting from good intentions, but what happens when that person leaves the company or looses interest? I’m sure there are quite a few companies out there with social media accounts in their name that they have literally no access to.
Tip: Make it clear that no employee can open accounts, pages, groups etc in the name of the company without the clearance to do so. Existing accounts must have more than one admin. And take it upon yourself to find out how much presence your company really has on social media.
3. Employees venting their anger on the company or customers via social media. We’ve all been frustrated with our employers, customers or others from time to time, and blowing off steam at home or with friends is a good way to handle that. Doing it on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media channel, on the other hand, can create problems that will be around many years from now.
Tip: Make it clear that what happens on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook. And that it can have an impact on their careers years from now,. You need to make sure that your colleagues understand this, not for the company’s sake, but for their own.
4. Posting inappropriate images. The rise of visual social channels like Instagram, Vine and Snapchat has led to visual communication dominating social media. And it’s so easy, we all have a smartphone in our pocket and can take and post images anytime, anywhere. But if we do so at work we might unintentionally post images that are in violation of our employee agreement or the code of conduct.
Tip: Make sure your social media guidelines expressly address this issue. And provide examples of what you’re talking about.
5. Unclear ownership of networks and groups. Like I said in the beginning a lot of companies have encouraged their employees to be active on social media, to build networks or start groups both on Facebook and LinkedIn. But ownership of these networks or groups is often left vague, and if and when the employee leaves this can cause unnecessary problems.
Tip: Make sure employees have a full and open discussion with their manager before they begin with this, And make sure that your social media guidelines spells out your company’s position on this matter.
If your organization does not have documented guidelines for social media, which has been communicated in various ways to your employees, I would strongly advise you to begin this process. Social media is here to stay, we need to make sure that our organizations adapt to this reality.
Got more tips? Let me know in the comments
This was originally posted on LinkedIn in October, 2014