As the use of social media continues to grow exponentially, the line between professional and personal life tends to blur. Most likely, many of your employees are using social networks for personal use. They have connected with coworkers and clients. They may also help share posts from your company’s social networks to their own personal ones. The employee’s network of friends and followers probably begin to associate the individual with your company. This can be great. Employees can become some of your most effective brand advocates.
However, being aware of the potential risks is important.
- An employee could post their views regarding a controversial topic on their personal Facebook page. It’s their personal page, so no concern, right? Wrong. Those outside the company could easily associate the individual employee with the organization and their negative perception of the comments could also reflect poorly on their perception of the company.
- Or perhaps an employee makes a negative comment about a competitor on social media but they thought it was anonymous or private, so no concern to the company, right? Wrong. There is often a false perception of anonymity on social media, so the comment might not be so anonymous, and therefore not so safe for your company either.
- You could have an employee who is writing a new tweet and goes to attach a photo. They grab the wrong photo by accident, but are too busy to double check and click to post. Even if that photo is harmless, it could still be a visible social media mistake that could reflect poorly on the individual or company.
Do not let these risks stop you from encouraging employees’ use of social media. There are many significant benefits that can come from your employees social media use.
So how do you protect your company from the risks while still reaping the benefits? Three of the most effective strategies for mitigating these risks are to:
- Implement a social media policy
- Educate your employees
- Build a positive company culture where employees are productive and engaged
Implementing A Social Media Policy
A social media policy can provide guidelines about appropriate use of social media. It can also help you manage employees’ social media use to limit your exposure to risks. First and foremost, make the creation and implementation of a policy a collaborative effort. Yes, your marketing team is a large part of anything social media-related, but there are legal and human resources considerations that should be taken into account.
Similarly to other employee policies, a social media policy should be explicit and clear. Use plain English without overloading it with legal and technical jargon. If you must use some of these terms, add in a glossary to help define them to your employees. Your policy should be a resource to employees to understand appropriate and inappropriate social media use. The use of specific examples is an effective way to demonstrate proper behavior.
There are limits to what your policy can include. In particular, the National Labor Relations Board has been keeping a close eye on these policies to ensure employees’ rights are protected. Inside Counsel Magazine and TLNT.com, among other sites, provide tips for creating a lawful policy.
A social media policy doesn’t eliminate all the risks, but it is a key component in educating and informing your employees.
Educate Your Employees, Don’t Just Make Rules
Do you remember MySpace or Xanga? Or when AOL Instant Messenger was the big craze? Like any technology, social media networks are constantly changing. Your employees not only represent a wide variety of ages, interests, and experience levels, but also a range of familiarity with technology. If you want your employees to be positive representations of your brand, then do not expect them to do it alone. Providing instruction and guidance on the risks involved, how to use social networks, as well as what is appropriate to post and what is not, can be instrumental in mitigating many of the risks.
According to Grant Thornton’s 2013 study, only 36% of senior-level executives surveyed reported that their company has social media training. This is an increase from previous years, but there is still much room for improvement.
Since some of your employees are more tech-savvy than others, developing education that is appropriate for everyone in your company can be difficult. There are numerous resources available online to provide some guidance in getting started with your training. Below are a few suggestions:
- Specific social networks offer extensive getting started guides and resources on their sites: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook
Keep in mind the evolving nature of social media; this means your training must evolve as well!
Build A Positive Culture
By making a concerted effort to build a culture in which employees feel valued and engaged, companies can help mitigate the social media risks associated with employees. Engaged employees are less likely to make negative comments about the company or be poor representatives of the organization on social media. According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, 52% workers in the U.S. are “not engaged,” and another 18% are “actively disengaged.” The actively disengaged employees are more likely to “steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away.” The negative attitudes and behaviors of these employees bring greater potential for social media risks.
Take time to educate and inform your employees through social media policies and training. These efforts can help you manage the risks associated with their social media use, while still encouraging employees to be your greatest brand advocates.