Social media can be a highly valuable tool for marketing and client involvement for a business, but when used wrongly or maliciously, it can also be harmful to an organisation.
In this guide for employers, we consider the pros and cons of using social media at work and why a social media policy is important to set expectations on employees.
Social media use at work
When it comes to social media in the workplace, there are two main risks to keep in mind; first, employees publishing social media posts (either in or out of work hours) that could damage your business’s reputation; and employees using social media during working hours, causing a down-turn in their work or posing health and safety risks.
Employee use of social media at work typically covers:
- to take a break from work
- to connect with friends/family
- to make/support professional connections
- to get info that helps them solve problems at work
- to build/strengthen relationships with coworkers
- to learn about a colleague
- to ask work-related questions of people external to their organization
- to ask work-related questions of colleagues
Clearly, employees use social media at work for a variety of reasons – both personal and professional. Which leads to the question: should we allow social media use at work?
By considering the pros and cons associated with social media use at work, you can be strategic about how to harness social media use in the workplace, to optimise the benefit for the business.
Pros of social media in the workplace
Communications & Networking
First and foremost, social media is a communication and networking tool. It can improve work relationships and support decision-making processes by:
- staying in touch with others in the same field
- connecting with experts
- getting to know co-workers on a personal level
Social media in the workplace can actually increase employee engagement by helping workers recharge at work. Furthermore, employees who interact with coworkers online via social media blogs are more motivated and come up with innovative ideas.
And while it goes without saying, the many follow-on benefits of employee engagement include higher productivity, happier customers, and reduced turnover.
Outside your company, you have two particular kinds of people you want to attract: buyers and talent. You may have one but not the other – for instance, there are countless B2B companies that have great brand recognition among potential customers, but very little to no recognition among potential candidates. One of the best word of mouth engines is a company’s own employee base – since employees have many connections.
By embracing social media in the workplace, these companies open the door for their employees to speak on behalf of the company to their massive (and as mentioned earlier in this post, trusted) personal networks.
The result is almost always a stronger employer brand and consumer brand.
Cons of social media in the workplace
As we noted earlier, employees are already using social media at work. So the question to keep in mind when reviewing the potential cons is: how can a company minimise these cons given that employees already use social media at work?
As you’ve likely experienced yourself, it’s easy to get distracted when using social media.
Of course, the business models of social networks rely on that distraction. The more time you spend on social media, the more money-making ads these social networks can show you.
But that doesn’t mean your employees need to get lost perusing social media.
In fact, with a little bit of planning and some smart tactics (which we’ll share below), you can help focus your employees’ attention and drastically limit the odds that they drift off into the social media ether.
While employees who use social media at work are more engaged, they are also more likely to leave for another company. This is typically because they make new connections and come across new organisations.
Of course, as we’ve said all along, this behavior is likely already happening. So it’s not really about whether to allow social media at work.
The real question is: what do you do about this phenomenon?
And regarding social media and employee turnover, there are two points to keep in mind.
First, you can realign employees’ social networking attention to be more collaborative with colleagues and internal-facing, reducing the risk of turnover.
Second, other companies are also facing the risk of employee turnover through social media use – which represents an employer branding and recruiting opportunity for you.
How to harness social media in the workplace
We’ve established that social media is a powerful tool at work, leading to engagement and productivity.
We also know that it’s a moot point – social media is already in the workplace, whether company leaders like it or not. Your employees are using it every day.
So the question is how to best harness social media at work.
Here are the three steps you need to implement to fully utilize the power of social media in the workplace.
Step 1: Use Internal Marketing to Solidify Your Employees’ Support
For successful use of social media at work, you need to start with the basics.
In this case, that’s an employee base that supports your company and is generally engaged at work.
Sure, your employees may work for your company. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you automatically have their full support.
Just like any consumer, your employees need to be convinced of the product. In this case, the product is your mission, vision, and culture.
The very best companies are deliberate about convincing their employees, through what’s called internal marketing.
Internal marketing is the promotion of your company’s vision, mission, and culture to your employees with the objective of gaining their support.
There’s a good chance your company is already doing some internal marketing. Some common tactics include:
- Consistent communication of company’s mission, vision, & values
- Having a strong, clear company strategy in place
- Seeking & acting on employee feedback
- Centralised communication
- Company-wide brainstorming for new products/services
- Using your own product/service
Some of these things may sound pretty standard or obvious. But get this step right, and you’ll drastically reduce the likelihood that your employees get distracted on social media or start looking elsewhere for opportunities.
Step 2: Develop the Right Social Media Policy for Your Company
With a supportive and engaged employee base, you can focus your attention on social media. Specifically, you’ll need to ensure your social media policy is right for your company. For example, you’ll want to make sure that your social media policy describes:
- Roles on social media, including who can officially speak on behalf of the company and who can’t
- What is, and is not, acceptable conduct and content
- Regulations, legal requirements, and the handling of sensitive information, especially in heavily regulated industries
- Procedures for handling conflicts or crises
- How your employees can participate in spreading the word about the company and why they enjoy working for
Step 3: Embrace Employee Advocacy
You’ve got your employees’ support and engagement. You’ve also got a solid social media policy to guide their social media use. Now it’s time to take full advantage of social media in the workplace by embracing employee advocacy. With employee advocacy, your employees serve as your ambassador on their own personal social media accounts.
By actively participating as social media ambassadors, your employees will build their personal brand, help the company recruit top talent, and drive the company’s sales and marketing activities.
With employee advocacy, you’ll empower your employees to share:
- why they enjoy working for you
- how they feel supported by their manager or mentor
- the latest experience they had with a customer who shared how your product or service impacted their life
- the latest company news and developments
and anything else that helps set your company apart from the crowd.
And with a dedicated employee advocacy program and technology, you can make it foolproof for your employees by providing them with pre-approved content in one central location. They can then share that content with their personal social networks with the click of a button.
Social media policy
Companies shouldn’t prohibit employees from using social media and talking about their employment. Giving the right guidelines serves as a helpful reminder for employees to be considerate, inclusive and optimistic both inside and outside of work.
Social media offers unique ways to interact with customers, promote content, advertise sales, highlight events and recruit talent. It can be a useful marketing tool for businesses. Employees who promote their company can take social media potential up a notch, reaching a larger audience. Every employee can be a brand ambassador, advocating for the company’s products and services.
By creating social media guidelines, companies can empower employees and help them make the right choices on social media. These guidelines can prevent social media mishaps, and they can also turn team members into online brand ambassadors.
While companies cannot restrict information posted on personal accounts, employees should use common sense when on social media.
These guidelines shouldn’t be written to scare employees. Rather, these guidelines are here to protect the employees and the company. Encourage employees to have fun, stay connected and be transparent.
Best practice for employers
Here are key points companies should include in social media guidelines.
Address use of personal social media during work hours
Everyone still has a day job, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in social media. Include information on not using social media on company equipment unless it is work-related. When registering online accounts for personal use, employees should not use their company email address unless it is work-related.
By creating social media guidelines, companies can empower employees and help them make the right choices on social media.
Encourage employees to be respectful
Employees should refrain from discriminatory or harassing posts. This guidance should apply to new posts, retweets, shares and hashtags.
Statements and slurs about race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity and gender can be considered offensive. Remind employees that their professional brand and personal brand are tied together. The wrong comment could land them in court.
Encourage employees to stop and think before posting, especially when angry. Even if someone deletes a post, it may be too late. Businesses should also give employees examples of harmful posts.
Follow social protocol
Most companies have a code of conduct policy in place that employees sign when hired. This policy outlines how the company expects its employees to act. Remind employees that this policy also applies online.
Prohibit posting company confidential information
These guidelines should prohibit employees from sharing any company confidential information. This prohibition covers such information as the following:
- client lists
- nonpublic financials
- business strategies
- legal matters
- marketing and sales plans
Include consequences for violating this policy.
Promote employee engagement
Encourage employees to follow the company’s official social media accounts for a great starting place to engage with company content. They can share news, events and stories to get a good feel for company social media practices.
Employees should also list their employer — if they are comfortable — on their personal accounts, which adds another level to company trust. Individuals searching an organization want to know who works there, and they might see what your employees say.
Explain copyright and legal concerns
Outline copyright laws, and ensure employees know that there are legal constraints on the use of images, music, photos, videos and graphics. Attribute these copyrighted items to the original owner, or refrain from using them completely to avoid legal action.
Ensure opinions of the employee do not reflect the company
Employees should not state their opinions as being on behalf of the company. However, it’s acceptable for employees to express their opinions. Create a disclaimer clause that highlights opinions of employees should always be associated with the employee and not the company. The wording can simply state “views expressed are my own” in the social media bio.
Prevent improper use of company logo
Employees should be able to use the company logo. However, it is important for businesses to give specific examples when the logo should not be used.
Do not respond to negative reviews or comments
It’s easy to get caught up in a social media war. But only the social media manager should respond to negative comments and reviews based on company policy.
Having the social media manager — who oversees all corporate accounts — reply with a positive message shows the company cares and wants to address the issue. It’s best for the social media manager to speak with the irate customer via email or over the phone. This takes the issue out of the spotlight. If the issue needs additional attention, the social media manager can escalate it.
Our employment law experts work with businesses to ensure social media policies are put in place to help minimise the risk. We can do this by drafting a policy tailored to your business and also by dealing with investigations and disciplinary issues concerning the mis-use of social media by employees. Contact us for advice.
Last updated: 5 November 2022