Any notions that social media is a fad are long gone, it’s here to stay and it’ll keep evolving. Social media gives business the opportunity to broadcast for free, not only that it’s social, customers can become fans and advocates of your business. The opportunity is there.
Whether or you take the opportunity to talk about your business on social media others will! Your customers, potential customers, employees and potential employees are talking about you, whether it’s posts on Facebook or reviews on TripAdvisor or Glassdoor, the conversation is being had. If you’re not part of it, you won’t know what is being said.
The idea of banning your employees social media is starting to feel short sighted, after all banning access on company computers won’t stop employees accessing it on their own smartphone.
Lifting your ban on social media isn’t about allowing employees to manage their social life in work time, 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 or being part of discussions on Twitter.
- Internal communications – internal social media is a great way to open communication within the business, flatten structures and encourage cross departmental sharing.
What are the risks?
There will be times it goes wrong. In just the same way that employees will do silly things in the real world, banning the many for the behavior of a small minority is rarely a good strategy, especially when you are cutting off opportunities with a ban. A ban is unlikely to prevent an issue occurring on social media, whether it be in work time, on their own device or outside of work.
Having said that, a social media policy is useful to remind employees that they are responsible for everything posted on their account (keeping passwords safe and devices locked). It should also remind them that all other policies apply equally on social media (no bullying, no harassment, no bringing the company into disrepute etc).
Linkedin is the go to business networking tool, where many business deals start, it is important to ensure that your staff are not creating their own databases on Linkedin without the company having a record of those connections. There is in reality little you can do to break those LinkedIn connections when an employee moves on. In terms of protecting your business, in a world where it is almost impossible to prevent customers knowing where an employee has moved to, protection needs to come from within. Building and maintaining a business relationship with your customer that isn’t a relationship purely between two people and ensuring you have an offering that isn’t easy to replicate, make it unique. Actively ensure you protect the relationship throughout any handover or period where there isn’t someone in post is crucial.
What about employees spending all day on social media?
An employee spending excessive time on private social media can be dealt with through the disciplinary process. 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 will help you deal 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.
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.
What should we be doing as an employer?
If you’re asking your employees to be brand ambassadors online, make sure they know your brand messages and how you want your products or services marketed. It may also be useful to provide some training to ensure good use of social media and therefore tap into this marketing resource.
Training is also relevant to ensure employees are fully aware of and understand your policy. The interpretation of acceptable use may vary from individual to individual and will depend on their experience both inside and outside of the workplace. It is important that your employees know what is and isn’t acceptable in your organisation and the consequences of breaching a policy. Managers should also receive training to ensure consistent application of social media and other policies.
Your induction programme should include social media, at a minimum ensuring the policy is known, but also to ensure full understanding of what is expected. In a tribunal case involving Apple, they won when an employee (Crisp) claimed unfair dismissal. Crisp had posted negative comments on his private Facebook page, Apple could demonstrate they not only had a robust policy but had trained their staff to ensure full understanding, therefore demonstrating Crisp was fully aware of the consequences.
Article last updated: 25 November 2019
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