The Social-Media Friendly Workplace: Mobilizing for Maximum Effectiveness

By Lindsay Macintosh, CPHR

While social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Reddit, and YouTube have become part of most people’s everyday lives, many companies are still reluctant and questioning whether or not to allow their employees to use social media at work. What if the key was to put it to work?

Ambassadors…in a Digital Age
After all, social media are essentially information-based tools and technologies used to share information and facilitate communications with internal and external parties. It includes tools such as internet forums, instant messaging, blogs, microblogs and wikis.

Companies have long asked their employees to be brand ambassadors promoting products and services to family, friends, and their communities. Social media has opened up new box of opportunities for employers and employees in internal and external communications, recruiting, learning and development and employee engagement, allowing employees to be the new front line of public relations. Using social media at work strengthens competitive advantage with employees more engaged in their work.

Of Mistrust and Opportunity
When social media emerged during the 1990s and 2000s, companies largely shunned its use as being risky to brand reputation, information security and communications management. This thinking still prevails for some companies, as many employers see and fear these risks, while others believe that the use of social media at work wastes time and slows productivity.

According to an article published in UFCW Canada Media & News on February 25, 2017, “By the Numbers: Social Media in Canada,” 46 per cent of Canadian businesses use social media to promote their company and 36 per cent of Canadian businesses use social media to sell their products and services. The room for further growth is obvious.

New Tools of Empowerment
Companies that don’t embrace social networking are missing out on vast opportunities to engage their employees and build their brands. Today there are five generations in the workplace. This means we need to use all communication channels available to us to effectively engage employees.

Ron Shewchuk, Principal, Ron Shewchuk Consulting Inc., says, “We live in a networked world in which employees should have the ability to use all the tools available to them and do their job better. Using social media allows organizations to not only reach employees in ways that are easy for them to consume; it can also empower employees as ‘brand ambassadors’ with external audiences.”

Expanding the HR Tool Kit
Social media can open channels for collaboration and knowledge sharing, integrate employees into organizational culture, reinforce or change culture through communication, and create a sense of community. Collaborative technologies are effective in improving teamwork and building relationships. Social media is a valuable tool for gaining insight, innovation, feedback, and developing engaged and productive employees.

Recruiting through social media is undergoing dramatic changes. For example, accountants network with other accountants. When an accounting position opens, accountants in the company know the right people to recruit from their networking.

Eight Benefits to Consider
Embracing employee social networking is beneficial in that it:

  • allows employees to discuss ideas, ask questions, share links, and post news;
  • targets wide audiences, thereby being an effective recruiting tool and widen business contacts;
  • increases the customer base as a cheaper way to advertise;
  • promotes diversity and inclusion;
  • unleashes creativity, diverse thinking, and innovation;
  • unlocks knowledge allowing employees to share information and stay current in their knowledge;
  • enables communication in real time allowing organizations to educate;
  • employees, distribute information, and respond to critical situations; and
  • eliminates regional and global barriers.

Seven Causes for Caution
Although it can be very beneficial to organizations, social media comes with risks including:

  • improper use such as negative comments from employees about the organization or other employees;
  • loss of productivity due to overuse;
  • potential damage to the organization’s reputation or brand arising from employees acting in a manner
  • inconsistent with the organization’s business;
  • legal consequences due to employees use to view and distribute offensive material;
  • disclosure of confidential information;
  • hackers committing fraud or launching virus and spam attacks; and
  • compromising the organization’s computer security.

Policy Puts Participation in Perspective
To avoid risks, employers must incorporate a social media policy into their overall company policies. “Every employer needs a social media policy that lays out clear ground rules for how, and how not to use social media,” Shewchuck says. “A good social media policy should clearly define inappropriate behaviour, such as using disrespectful language, sharing confidential information, and communicating publicly on sensitive issues.”

A good social media policy outlines descriptions of social networks and how they benefit the company. It outlines guidelines for acceptable use and protocol for managing critical situations. In implementing a social media policy, one must keep in mind that potential audiences social media can reach and the speed at which information travels may result in much greater damage to the organization through careless actions, such as negative comments, disclosure of confidential information, and abusive material, than was previously possible.

Most importantly, employers must ensure social media policies are well communicated. Training in social media must be offered so employees know the right way to use it ensuring the company benefits from social networking.

Lindsay Macintosh, CPHR has over 20 years experience in payroll and benefits in the retail, foodservice and logging industries.

(PeopleTalk Summer 2017)

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