Employers should ‘friend’ social media (redux)

Understanding new and emerging trends, and developing policies

Employers should ‘friend’ social media (redux)
Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

I haven’t forgotten about doing a post on building trust in HR, which I will do next week, but I also wanted to do a post this week about social media in the workplace – especially given how excited I am about a new book we have coming out on the subject.

Looking back at a post I wrote in 2012 entitled “Employers should ‘friend’ social media,” I am struck by just how much has changed in the last six years. Even though much of what I wrote still holds true today, the examples and some of the language seem rather dated. Funnily enough, at the time I was reminiscing about a time several years before (circa 2008) when social media (generally referred to as “social networking” back then) was still very new.

Technology and the social and business implications of social media are changing so fast that employers need to constantly be aware of new and emerging social networks and the use and abuse of such technologies in the workplace and elsewhere. Networks like Google+, Tumblr, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Pinterest and Instagram were still pretty much in their infancy in 2012. Even Twitter was fairly new at the time.

Not understanding Twitter

Some of these sites took time to catch on, and I believe the business implications of some social media sites and mobile apps weren’t immediately obvious to many people. For example, I can remember not really understanding Twitter when it first came out.

Back in the early days, someone described Twitter as “narcissistic navel gazing,” and I was inclined to agree at the time. It was first described to me as being like a stream of short Facebook status updates and I didn’t see the point. I first thought tweets would all be asinine updates about what people had for lunch or their current stream of consciousness.

It wasn’t until I started using Twitter fairly regularly that I finally got it. The brilliance of Twitter isn’t in the short 140-character tweets themselves (now up to 280 characters), but rather in the ability to share links, pictures, videos and other content. The problem I see with Twitter now isn’t the lack of information, but rather the opposite – the large volume of tweets which can seem rather like drinking from a firehose.

New and emerging social media platforms

Employers and others are likely to be unaware of new and emerging social media platforms when they first come out. Young people are often the first to discover these new social media sites.

From an employer’s perspective, it is important to maintain awareness of social media trends for a number of reasons. Employers need to understand what social networks employees are using, for what purposes and how those networks are used from a personal perspective, as well as the target audience for those tools.

While many employers tried to ban social media use in the workplace when Facebook first became popular, such an approach isn’t likely to be effective in most workplaces or industries these days. There is no question that social media can be a time waster, but it’s so pervasive these days that employers simply can’t ignore it.

Even if employees can’t access social media on work devices, they will often just use their personal phones. Many people these days will feel hard done by if they can’t access social media at all during work hours. There’s also the issue of after hours conduct, particularly with respect to confidentiality, disparaging remarks about the company or its products and services, cyberbullying or hateful comments about individuals or groups.

That’s not to say employers can’t and shouldn’t set limits on appropriate levels of social media use through policies. Organizations also need to learn how to leverage social media effectively for business purposes and develop, communicate and enforce policies governing social media. This includes determining who has authority to speak on behalf of the organization, using which channels and for what purposes.

Special offer for readers

Human Resources Guide to Social Media in the Workplace: A Canadian Perspective, by Didier Dubois, Emilie Pelletier and Katherine Poirier, is a new book that will be published shortly. It is a helpful resource to provide guidance to Canadian employers in developing their own policies governing social media in the workplace. Readers can receive a 30 per cent discount when ordering by quoting promo code 61465 by Dec. 31, 2018.

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