Why bosses shouldn’t ban social media

Are you ‘allowed’ to use social media during working hours?

Does your boss frown down on Facebook or tantrum over tweeting?

It’s an interesting issue in this so-called social media age, when many of us have smartphones in our backpocket or sit in front of a computer screen for much of the day, with our networks constantly beckoning us to check in, update and participate.

More and more workplaces are introducing social media policies – which range from banning social media use and threatening dismissal, through to encouraging staff to use social media and providing hints and tips.

There are plenty of blogs on this topic written by lawyers and HR specialists. But in this blog post, I want to pose some questions about what happens when we frighten staff away from social media, because frankly, one day those employers may be sorry!

Why would your boss be sorry they blocked social media?

  1. People are already talking about you / your boss / your boss’s business online. If you’re hooked into social media, there are more chances for you to know that – and to respond.
  2. One day your boss will want social media nouse within the organisation, it’s just a matter of when. The more staff are across the channel, the better.
  3. These days, issues and crises can arise online. And where should you respond? Online of course. Yet if your employer doesn’t have any online accounts (or they are small or inactive accounts), it can be mighty difficult. This is where employers are often relieved to find staff who do have a large digital footprint, who can help spread their message. (Yet how will staff react, when social media has been frowned upon for so long?)
  4. There are often causes or competitions online which offer rewards for organisations or businesses.  But in order to reap those rewards, you need to garner online support. Charities do quite  a lot of this via Twitter, for example, by asking followers to support or retweet them. They can seed this activity via staff who are active on social media. If you’ve banned your staff from using social media…? Well, you get the picture.
  5. One day your boss may ask how much Klout (or equivalent) you have. Because they may need that Klout for a new online campaign. If you have an impressive Klout however, you may be so disgruntled at your boss’s lack of previous support, that you’re unwilling to lend it to the organisation.
Klout - one day your boss might want some
Klout - one day your boss might want some

This might sound simplistic or naïve, but I’ve seen this happening already. Employers suddenly find they’re “ready for social media” but their past attitude means an awkward and significant culture shift within their workplace. In addition, they have a limited in-house social media skills to call upon.

Social media networks take time to build. Social media etiquette  – particularly for different online communities – takes time to absorb. The earlier you start, the better. And there’s no better place to begin than allowing your employees to participate.

Of course, this participation needs to be within reason. Your employers don’t need to watch YouTube videos all day or read every Facebook post in their news stream. However, unblocking social media sites and allowing staff to periodically check into social media sites can be a worthwhile investment. It’s also another way to reward, respect and motivate your staff.

Are you allowed to use social media sites during working hours?

Further reading
Digital natives will change old school workplaces

My next blog post: Who owns your social media profile?

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Jason Dunstone says:

    Good points Michelle. This is a massive issue and big area of debate – balancing ‘encouraging experimentation, learning and social media upskilling’ with ‘productivity, distraction and social media time wasting.’ For me, it is a key and challenging area fundamental to team dynamics, learning about the evolving media landscape and ultimately achieving business objectives. Employers need to set reasonable guidelines and employees need to appreciate they are there to work. Well done for raising the issue from a new angle. J

  2. Recently I heard about the HR manager of a large organisation asked the social media adviser to include something about “using social media for personal use” and the “appropriate amount of time to be spent on work-related social media activities” in the company’s social media policy.

    This is an organisation of more than 1000 people Austrtalia-wide, where often policies such as this are written by people most employees don’t know and directed by bosses no one ever sees. I think in smaller organisations where it’s easy to argue your case to the policy-makers the use of social media is more straight forward. But it’s the large organisations (who would actually benefit the most) where most of the problem lies

  3. Cullen Habel says:

    This is timely. I recall in 1993 when a boss didn’t like seeing people working on computers. “you can look very busy on a computer but not be doing any real work” and he’s right. But perhaps that boss could be thinking about how well he was managing his team – did they have a clear idea of what the business was trying to do, their place in it, and how this newfangled “computer” could make it work in their favour.

    For sure there was an opportunity to goof off with the computer on, and a similar opportunity exists with social media. But just as then, banning the tool when the real issue is how you manage your team – well that doesn’t seem helpful.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great post, Michelle. I’ve touched on this with you a little bit the other day but being that my business is one of those who doesn’t like its employees using social media for anything (but uses social media itself to reach customers) I’ve chosen to remain nameless while I share my thoughts.

    It is so bad where I work that I was once pulled into a room and given a stern lecture because I, as a paying customer, tweeted about my disatisfaction with the service I was (or rather, wasn’t) receiving. I was told that because I am an employee that I could not post anything negative about the company and that I must always uphold the company image in a positive light.

    I was not using a company Twitter account to post my dissatisfaction.
    I have not made public anywhere on my account who I work for.
    I pay, like every other customer, to use my service.
    I made my post in my own time, not the companies time.

    These three points shouldn’t mean my rights to free thought or rights as a consumer are waived purely because I work for the company. Perhaps the business shouldn’t be tracking down ts employees and watching what they say.

  5. Sharon says:

    Thankful for this post, Michelle, I have strong opinions on this issue and support the points you and the other commenters have made. I work in government which, in addition to the time-wasting perception concern, can have issues with adapting to a 2.0 environment and letting go of the one-way flow of information.

    One of the barriers is that ‘bosses’ just don’t understand social media, if they don’t use it or use it only for keeping in contact with distant family and friends. And part of this is the constant media focus on the negative aspects of social media (so pleased to see your piece in the Tiser Jan 2012) instead of what it can do, and how it can serve an organisation. The amount of news, information, stories – not to mention misinformation to set things straight – is incredible. SAPOL are now effectively using Facebook to ‘crowdsource’ crime fighting and gather intelligence.

    People need to get it through their heads that social media is *the medium* – if people are going to waste time, they will do it anyway. That is a *management* issue. If employers are worried about social media, they should also be focusing on time on cigarette breaks, chatting at the coffee machine and personal phone calls during work hours – then again, enlightened employers might see that as giving people a chance to move away from their desk, reinvigorate thinking by having a break and maybe generating new ideas or building workplace morale, and contributing to work life balance.

    And if they watch the occasional cat fart video in among all this or post a status update – SO WHAT?! What do you expect when you stick human beings in front of computers eight hours a day, they will go searching for comic relief and interesting things that re-energises their neural circuits! Employees are more and more on a digital leash of remote email access, smart phones, etc, so a bit of leeway in the other direction is fair.

    Facebook, Twitter et al – they’re just technologies. And like any technology, you can use it for productive or destructive purposes. Employers should be getting to grips with this, exploring it, find out what it can do, because its NOT going away – and the day you find an online conversation happening on another page about your organisation, which you cannot control, is the day you’ll wish you (and your staff) were ready.

    1. Prakky says:

      Wow, thanks Sharon for such a great response. I agree with all of your points – especially that many ‘bosses’ don’t use social media themselves and therefore are blind to opportunities, and also the tactics that can be used to decrease risks. Also agree that it’s a management issue, if there’s any concern about employees spending too much time on personal use of social media during working hours.

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