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Social Media in the Workplace: A Reality, Whether You Like it or Not

Are you a CEO, president or HR director struggling with whether or not to “allow” social media in the workplace? If so, stop pondering the question … the decision isn’t yours.  I know, I know, the truth can hurt, but the reality is that in today’s day and age, the increasing prevalence of smartphones combined with tech-savvy employees who (gasp!) can figure out a way to access social networks in spite of firewalls, the question you should be asking is not “Should we ‘allow’ social media in the workplace?” but instead “How do we manage social media in the workplace?”

Bill Trumpfheller and I recently participated in a panel on social media in the workplace in conjunction with SDSU’s College of Extended Studies. We mostly help clients think through how they can use social media as an external communications tool, so the discussion was a nice change of pace. I couldn’t help but reference a friend of mine whose employer “bans” social media at work.  It’s not uncommon to see his random thoughts, links to YouTube videos and articles, and even photos of his office desk posted on Facebook — all during work hours. His secret weapon? His iPhone, and he’s not alone. In fact, smartphone traffic in February 2010 was up 193 percent over February 2009, according to an AdMob report released today.

We know and understand the concerns about “allowing” social media in the workplace. They range from information security and data privacy to employee productivity and even slander, defamation and libel issues … not to mention SEC regulations for public companies. But, there could also be many benefits associated with incorporating social media in the workplace — and don’t forget “social media” doesn’t only mean Facebook or Twitter. Companies like Best Buy, Deloitte and Qualcomm have created internal social networks that actually allow for increased collaboration, idea generation, employee engagement and internal branding, while building a strong company culture. Companies are also using social media to reach potential employees, for training videos and to connect employees remotely.

So, if you don’t know it by now, I’ll clue you in: the time has come to stop ignoring social media. While social media isn’t the cure all, nor is it something that should be a stand-alone tactic, it can’t be ignored – not only as an external communications and relationship building tool, but also as something effecting the internal communication in every workplace.

Further, while social media is being widely adopted by all age groups, younger generations have the concepts of social media so deeply ingrained that they actually communicate differently than previous generations (as scary as that may seem). They use more channels and tools to connect. They access information and process information differently.  It’s important companies don’t miss the boat, and this means understanding why social media is so important, setting clear social media policies or guidelines, talking openly about the issue, providing staff training, and taking a look a look at your company culture to determine what role social media may play. Don’t worry, it’s not all that daunting. Just look at the Zappos social media policy “Be real and use your best judgment.”

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