Whether you’re prepared for it or not, social media activity is a now a common fact of life for over a billion people — and that’s a conservative estimate. Many of your employees are probably already active on social media, and at least some of those are actively posting to Facebook and Twitter at work.
A recent survey in the UK found that at least one third of employees in that country are actively using social media while at work. Another study from AddThis, analyzing the social media activity of over a billion people, found that Wednesdays at 9:30 AM (Eastern) — smack dab in the middle of the typical North American work week — is the peak time for social media sharing.
Even in workplaces where social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been blocked, employers are finding that employees are simply bringing their smartphones to work and using those devices to connect to their favorite social media platforms.
Employees Using Social Media at Work: Pros
So what’s an employer to do — ban or limit social media activity at work in a quest to increase productivity or embrace the brave new world of an always-connected workforce? Here are some of the pros associated with allowing your employees to use social media at work.
Increased productivity: Yes, you read that correctly. A recent study from placement firm Robert Half Technologies found that 54 percent of companies banned their employees entirely from accessing social networking sites at work, citing a loss of productivity as the primary reason for the prohibitive policy. Yet the same study showed that a whopping 70 percent of employees who use social media at work are more productive than employees who are banned from social networking.
Leverage employees’ networks: The average Twitter account has approximately 120 followers and the number of friends a typical Facebook member has is roughly the same. Allowing your employees to participate in social media while at work has the potential to expose your business to your employees’ followers, assuming that there is some public connection made between your employees’ social media accounts and your brand.
Increased job satisfaction Among the many benefits of social media is that at the end of the day, it’s fun. Offering employees benefits and perks that are meaningful to them can often be more important than salary considerations, particularly among younger employees just joining the workforce. Employees who might not have had previous exposure to social media, may appreciate the new social skills they can learn and apply on the job, all with the endorsement of the company.
Employees Using Social Media at Work: Cons
Of course, there’s always the other side of the social media coin to consider. Allowing your employees’ access to social media while at work could have some negative consequences as well.
Personal brand overshadows the corporate brand: Notwithstanding the average number of followers for typical Facebook and Twitter accounts, some employees may already have established a following and a “personal brand” that outshines the social media reputation of your company. It’s possible that clients and prospects could get confused as to who speaks for the company if an employee’s social media profile or role within the company is unclear to the public.
Inappropriate updates: They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so even well meaning employees can post inappropriate status updates that portray their companies in a negative light. There are potentially disgruntled employees at any organization and allowing these employees access to social media sites while at work could allow a public forum for those employees to post negative comments about the company.
Employees taking advantage: Whether your employees are satisfied or disgruntled, there may be employees who will take advantage of a good thing. Perhaps they’ll assume that if you permit access to Facebook and Twitter, then it’s okay for them to watch videos on YouTube all afternoon. Conversely, an employee who definitely does not want to tweet or use Facebook at work may feel entitled to other perks that you’re not prepared to provide.
Establish a Social Media Policy
Because of the potential benefits, and drawbacks, in allowing employees to access social media sites at work, many companies are now developing formalized social media polices that govern these activities.
You may find some of these issues and concerns to be very similar in nature to the introduction of the Internet into the workplace. Just think about what the world of business might look like today if every employer banned its employees from using the Internet!
Instead of focusing on what employees are not allowed to do with social media at work, consider drafting a policy that encourages social media participation according to a clear set of guiding principles, and you’ll likely arrive at a win-win situation between you and your employees.