Making Social Media Work to Your Benefit

Rachel Rahe

Looking for a way to make employees more productive? Tell them to interact on Facebook.

According to one study, all you need to do is encourage them to spend more time on social networking sites, or checking online news sites. The study found that taking this mental break increased employees’ ability to concentrate, resulting in a 9 percent increase in total productivity.

Whether or not you believe the study’s productivity gains, the truth is that social media is today’s workplace “water cooler” as well as the civic public square. It is where a significant portion of human communication and conversation takes place. In fact, social media is now the No. 1 online activity and has become part of virtually every aspect of modern business.

Companies use social networking to engage customers, to promote and sell products and services, to communicate with employees and to vet job candidates. It’s not a toy to be shunned. It’s a tool to be leveraged.

And, like any tool, social media has both positive and negative aspects. Stories continue to surface of social media misuse with negative consequences for the workplace. There have been numerous examples of “Facebook firings.” One employee was fired after her employer found a photo on Facebook of her zip-lining when she was off work on a disability claim.

A recent example of misuse, which received more publicity than most, was “Weinergate.” While for most people it is a given to not post lewd photos on social media sites, it does raise the question of whether businesses are doing enough to protect themselves, and their employees, from bad judgment – or momentary lapses of sanity. One thing is for sure: Congress isn’t getting it done. They don’t even have a policy about social media use!

Your organization can – and should – do better. For years, many organizations thought is was enough to simply block social media sites so employees couldn’t access them at work. But with the rise of social media as a communications medium and marketplace of choice, that is no longer realistic.

The better approach is to create a social media policy about appropriate use. After all, people are going to use social media, whether at work or elsewhere. And even when they’re on their own time, if they identify themselves as your employee, they’re still part of your company’s image, for better or worse.

But how do you avoid inappropriate use of social media without blowing up employee relations? Start by looking at your company’s culture. Some work environments are more progressive while others are more conservative. Designing a policy that complements your culture, and is well-defined, will make it easier for employees to adapt to the policy.

The work doesn’t stop once the policy is created. Remember, the social media sphere is evolving constantly and your policy has to keep up, with frequent reviews and updates as needed. An outdated policy does about as much good as not having one at all.

Another tip is to look at what other companies have done. Looking for examples will give you insight into things that have worked for other organizations. By reviewing examples from within your industry, you can look at how similar businesses handled confidentiality, posting during the workday, etc.

The most important thing to remember, though, as you design your policy, is to keep things positive. Focus on what your employees can do, not what they can’t. By emphasizing the proper use of social media in the workplace, you convey to your employees that you trust them, which makes for a happier, more productive workplace.

— Rachel Rahe, Prairie Dog|TCG Senior Account Manager

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