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Communications and Marketing Manager
Accord Human Resources
In business, social networking can be viewed as an Achilles’ heel or favored friend.
The trepidation a company feels over the topic often has a direct correlation to the amount of preparation and research they have dedicated to it.
When it comes to the HR aspect of social media in the workplace, many businesses find themselves in unfamiliar and possibly dangerous waters. Although it may be tempting to turn a blind eye, doing so could open the door to risk.
If you are holding out hope that social media is a fad, it is time to look at the numbers. Facebook has more than 901 million users; Twitter, more than 500 million. Your employees are using these sites.
A recent report from AC Nielsen states that 92% of consumers trust “earned media,” such as word-of-mouth, above all other forms of advertising. Since social media is today’s version of word-of-mouth, what is being said via these channels is absolutely relevant to you.
Every employee represents your brand to some degree. Intentional or not, they can either positively or negatively represent your brand on social networking sites.
If you are familiar with the intricacies of managing employees, you may think social media is an HR nightmare. Depending on how you address it, you could be right. Employers must walk a very narrow tightrope with social media. From hiring to disciplinary action and everything in between, the HR implications of social media are anything but simple.
Most businesses have devoted much time and effort to developing policies and procedures for managing their human resources, and many federal and state laws likely were referenced to ensure compliance. Employees’ social networking activities are not exempt from the application of these laws.
For example, just because a person shares their religious beliefs with the world via a social media site does not negate its protected status. Therefore, hiring managers must be exceedingly cautious when using social media to research applicants. The same warning applies when managing employees. For example, although a manager may feel justified in disciplining an employee for an unfavorable comment the employee made about the company on social media, depending on the specific circumstances, this may be outside of the manager’s legal rights.
Tempting as it may be, prohibiting all use of social media at work will not solve any of the potential risks. Instead, consider taking steps to use employees as social media ambassadors for your company.
1. Develop a policy
Just as you have a professional conduct policy in your company handbook, you need a social media policy. It should define “social media” to prevent any misunderstandings and state your position on the use of social media as it relates to the company.
Consider covering these points:
• employee interactions — Should managers “friend” their subordinates? Are employees encouraged to “friend” clients, vendors and other business contacts?
• adaptation of current policies to address social media, including anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, anti-bullying, whistleblower, etc.
• recruitment policy, including social media background checks, job postings, commenting on potential candidates, etc.
• references — Some sites encourage users to leave recommendations for each other. Does this violate your current reference policy?
• social networking on behalf of the company — Do you encourage this? If so, what guidelines will you provide? If not, what limitations need to be in place?
• privacy — Are any topics off-limits to your employees? Are they prohibited from discussing financial, confidential, sensitive or proprietary information?
Any policy you put in place will be ineffective unless you train your employees on the proper use of social media. Rather than reacting in fear, develop guidelines to help your employees represent your brand and themselves in a positive manner.
Without such training, your employees may be unaware their behavior is unsatisfactory or may not realize their impact on the company image. Train them how to present professional communications and avoid potentially damaging behaviors.
3. React cautiously
If faced with an employee issue related to social media, handle the situation as wisely and cautiously as you would any other HR issue.
Although you likely cannot control what is being said about your company via social media, with appropriate preparation, education and diligence, any business should be able to mitigate the potential risks of social media.