Social media in the workplace: setting standards

Americans are visiting social media networking sites more than ever. According to consumer analysts Experian Simmons, almost half confess to accessing the sites multiple times per day.

The bigger issue for employers, however, is how social media use impacts productivity and message control. What are companies doing about it? Many are taking a reactive stance by blocking social media altogether, or waiting for employees to “slip up” online, then jumping in with disciplinary action. The problem with this approach is that by the time the organization learns about the situation, the damage has often been done.

A better solution is to create a social media policy so employees know what to expect. “With social media, it’s all one big grey area unless you have written guidelines in place,” said Bob Coffield, an attorney with the law firm of Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso PLLC.

So if you’re looking to create standards on social media in the workplace, here are some best-practice tips:

1. Don’t ban access completely

Even super-restrictive policies can’t change the fact that most employees can still connect to the web from their phone at work. “The best approach,” Coffield said, “is to be proactive and emphasize an understanding of social media and its proper use in the workplace.” In other words, don’t be afraid to give employees access as long as you provide them with clear boundaries.

2. Learn from the best

Search Google for “social media policy” and you’ll find plenty of policies, including policies of the social media companies themselves. Pay attention to how these and other companies address issues related to confidentiality, inappropriate online behavior, intellectual property rights, and so on. Monster also has guidelines on social media policies in the workplace. “The best policies set forth constructive guidance on being transparent and authentic, being responsible for what you write, protecting proprietary information, and using common sense,” Coffield said. “You should also address proper balance between use of social media at work and your other required job duties.”

3. Involve your staff

Careerealism founder J.T. O’Donnell says you’ll have better buy-in if you involve employees from the very beginning. O’Donnell recommends a team meeting that starts with a discussion of social media marketing, leading to further discussion on policy. “By including staff in the development of a great social media strategy, you can then open up the discussion around what they feel are fair rules of engagement,” she says. “You’ll find this approach results in employees volunteering ideas to be outlined so they can all be successful at social media without jeopardizing the company or their employment.”

4. Keep it simple, silly

Author and consultant Alexandra Levit, writing in Success for Hire: Simple Strategies to Find and Keep Outstanding Employees, puts it like this: “Keep the policy as simple as possible while including all of the pertinent information. You don’t want it to be so convoluted that people ignore it.”

5. Take it off the page

Make social media training part of your company’s ongoing professional development and/or orientation for new employees. “Many organizations are providing formal training to ensure that employees not only understand the guidelines, but also comprehend the consequences,” Levit says. “You don’t want to talk down to your employees, but you should ensure that they are aware of the instantaneous nature of social media — once something is said, it can’t be taken back — so usage related to work and the company must be thoughtful and carefully considered ahead of time.”

6. Build company advocates

Avoid creating a social media policy that focuses solely on the ramifications of poor judgment and telling employees what they “can’t” do. Instead, make it easy for them to be advocates for your organization by incorporating a list of company-sponsored social media resources into your policy. Encourage staff to promote your organization through their own networks and provide incentives and rewards for doing so.

When it comes to social media in the workplace, the bottom line is that it’s less about “micro-managing” everything your employees do online and more about giving them the tools needed to represent themselves and your organization in the best way. “The truth is, we all lost the ability to ‘control’ what is said about us a long time ago,” said Coffield. “Therefore, the best thing employers can do is hire the smartest people they can find, give them the basic ‘rules of the road’, and then trust them to drive responsibly.”

Turn social media into a recruiting asset for your company

While it’s important to set standards for using social media in the workplace, it’s also important to recognize what a great tool it can be for finding talented employees. To understand how you can incorporate social media into your recruiting strategy, and for more insights into the job market and hiring strategies, check out Monster Hiring Solutions.