I don’t need to tell you we’re no longer talking about “what you had for breakfast” - social media has changed unbelievably over the past decade and I’ve written and rewritten articles like this to match those changes over that time.
With Smart Phones being in most people’s pockets the days of banning social media (and even phones) have pretty much gone. And of course, there are many business benefits to being social:
- Marketing – your employees should be your biggest fans helping you to promote your brand both as an employer and to your customers. People follow people in much greater numbers than they follow company accounts.
- Recruitment - building a brand as an employer, being a company people want to work for because they know what you do and how you treat your employees. Social media can be a great tool for creating this brand awareness.
- Learning and development – there is lots of good quality information out there along with the opportunity to be part of a community within your industry. Whether it’s YouTube videos, TikTok or being part of discussions on LinkedIn.
- Internal communications – internal social media is a great way to open communication within the business, flatten structures and encourage cross departmental sharing.
What should you consider?
We know social media has plenty of benefits but we also know there are risks. The focus now is how do you get the business benefits, recognise the needs and wants of your people whilst at the same time reducing the risk?
We all use and understand social media differently, the platforms are all different and within that an individual’s experience will vary depending on how they use the platform. We cannot assume anyone will know what social media means to you as a business, how it’s used in business, what is and isn’t appropriate to post.
It’s vital that social media is part of your Induction Programme and regular training for your teams. Whether you want to tell people not to post or love that everyone can now support your marketing efforts - wherever you sit, you need to tell people. The variety in attitudes towards employees on social media that we come across tells us it would be impossible in most cases for a new starter to know what is expected of them.
2. Social Media Policy
Training should be supported by a social media policy outlining your expectations of people.
A social media policy provides protection for the company by reminding employees that they are responsible for everything posted on their account (keeping passwords safe and devices locked). As well as reminding them not to say something derogatory and that all other policies apply equally on social media (no bullying, no harassment, no bringing the company into disrepute etc). Whilst you’d hope people won’t do these things, unfortunately they sometimes do and the only way you can discipline or dismiss is when you’ve made it clear what is expected and the dismissal may come from a breach. This doesn’t need to be long winded or threatening, just a reminder in a policy focused on telling people what they should do.
It’s also useful to think about customer data being held in individual social media accounts, ensuring your team are adding lead details to your databases and not keeping it solely in social media accounts.
I’m often asked to write into policies protections around people leaving, such as requesting people delete accounts or connections. In a world where it is almost impossible to prevent customers knowing where an employee has moved to, your social media policy probably isn’t the best place for this protection. Protection needs to come from within. Building and maintaining a business relationship with your customer that isn’t a relationship purely between two people. Actively ensuring you protect the relationship throughout any handover or period where there isn’t someone in post is crucial.
3. Using WhatsApp for Workplace Communications
WhatsApp is used by many small businesses as a team communication tool, it’s simple, cheap and people already have it downloaded - I completely understand why it’s used.
WhatsApp have created WhatsApp Business as a business-focussed app, ideal for communicating with customers and marketing.
However, communicating with customers is one use, what we’re finding is it being used as a team communication channel beyond just a social channel. We’re seeing business confidential data being shared in WhatsApp groups and colleagues using it to communicate about work issues often when one or more people are not at work.
Confidential data on WhatsApp means that data is now stored on the individual’s device and possibly multiple devices. This could result in data being shared outside the organisation e.g. with family members. Once that data is on that individual’s device you have no control over it. Should that person leave they can be removed from the WhatsApp group but all history remains on their device in their control.
In terms of communication between teams, we’re now seeing this form part of bullying allegations. WhatsApp is a personal tool, yes, we can turn off notifications for a group but once you go into the app the little number of unread messages is clear. The result is people don’t have the option to turn off work communications when not working, essentially if the communication level is high enough they end up with no real day off or holiday as they’re always switched on to work chat. Should those messages be critical or attempt a response before the person returns to work this can feel like bullying or harassment. At the very least it fails to respect an individual’s right to go home and forget about the challenges of the day.
4. What about employees spending all day on social media?
An employee using social media excessively will be a symptom of another problem, most likely they are not achieving what they should be or don’t have enough work to do. Understanding the route of the problem is the key to dealing with it. This is not unique to social media, if it’s not social media there will be other ways to waste time and avoid working.
IT monitoring of social media is an option but must be reasonable and in line with the General Data Protection Regulations. If social media is being used for business purposes by that individual it may be difficult to differentiate between private and business use.
When you define clearly what is expected of people and can see whether or not they are achieving this takes away the stress of worrying about people spending time on social media. They’re either working and achieving what is expected or they’re not, in which case we recommend you take advice and deal with their lack of performance.
5. An employee is off sick and we’ve seen pictures of them having fun on Facebook?
Pulling a “sickie” could be grounds for dismissal on the basis of gross misconduct if the employee is found to have lied about the reason for their absence, e.g. to attend a sporting event or go on holiday. However, a fair procedure must be followed in order to ensure gross misconduct is a reasonable response. The photos may have appeared on Facebook that day, this does not mean they were taken on that particular day.
If the absence is due to mental health they may have been recommended by their doctor to take a holiday or take part in recreational activities to get them out of the house, we cannot dismiss an employee who is acting on advice. We can speak to the employee, find out the circumstances and if necessary write to the GP or get an Occupational Health Assessment.
It’s becoming harder to write these articles as social media doesn’t stand alone, it feeds into so much of everyday life both personally and in business. There is certainly no escaping it. The need for social media policies are there because they are such a powerful tool - both for good and bad. Training is absolutely essential for every business, the interpretation of how social media is used varies so much that expecting people to know it as “common sense” is unrealistic.
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Article last updated: 14 May 2022
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