Is social networking really okay at work?

I just received an email regarding an event helping human resources to understand social media.  Its sales pitch is naturally linked to Facebook – as the “latest social media craze” being undertaking in company time.

The primary focus of this event is on controlling the “threats to HR”:

    • How to limit employee time spent on social media sites in working hours without denting staff morale?
    • What is best practice in dealing with personnel using social media against an organisation?
    • What is the appropriate legal response to uncomplimentary comments on a blog or network and where does the blame lie?

This focus on control may not be surprising given Tom Watson’s recent reference to a study of PR practitioners that backed monitoring and discipline of staff who write negative comments about an onganisation on a personal blog. 

But, like many HR policies, guidelines on use of social media are frequently ignored.  Indeed, reports:

Nearly ten percent of companies have fired an employee for violating corporate blogging or message board policies, and 19 percent have disciplined an employee for the same infractions, according to a new survey from Proofpoint, a messaging security company.

Almost a third of companies “employ staff to read or otherwise analyze outbound email,” while more than fifteen percent have hired people whose primary function is to spy on outgoing corporate email.  A quarter have fired an employee for violating corporate email policies. Twenty percent of the companies and almost thirty percent of companies with more than 20,000 employees had been ordered by a court or a regulator to turn over employee emails.

As much as turning to compliance software to build a record of employee “” seems a strategy that fails to understand the very nature of social media, it is the natural reaction of organisations.   

Although no organisation is seriously going to fire all its employees – including the ones at the top, there has to be a balance between using new technology and having fun on company time.

Simon Wakeman covered recent discussion about controls on Facebook noting early corporate reactions to email and using the Internet were largely restrictive.  That is still true in many organisations, where personal use of mobile, and landline, phones is also restricted.  And, let’s not forget the bars on sending your private mail using the company system.

However, employees are free to use these methods of communication outside of work.  As David Phillips commented on the DummySpit post, social media is a lot like networking in the pub, which makes the division between what you say in work and private time a lot more difficult.  As yet, conversations over a pint are not being recorded and monitored – but your digital footprint is.

Undoubtedly younger employees are going to expect to use social media tools as part of their working life, much as email and Internet have become valued means of corporate communications.  However, they will learn that work isn’t all fun and play – so Twittering your mates is unlikely ever to be acceptable in most jobs.

It would be naive to expect open access to social media for all employees when they are supposed to be doing something more constructive than poking friends.

Nevertheless, I’d like to see HR managers encouraged to see the wider benefits of using social media as well as its downsides – and greater recognition that if negative comments are occurring online, they’ll be happening offline too. 

Which means HR and PR need to ensure organisations are better managed rather than trying to hide the social media dirt under the carpet.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

2 thoughts on “Is social networking really okay at work?”

  1. I personally feel its foolish of companies and large organizations of banning any website, because there are ‘n’ of proxy sites that these employees will use to ban the websites. once a website is banned, the other employees who were not on to this website will want to get onto it.

    http://mokshjuneja.blogspot.com

  2. Social networks like Linked In should be the exception to the rule. You might have to look up a contact and find their information for a possible sale. There are so many networks out there that can be used for that information. So to put an all out ban is ridiculous. People use Facebook even for networking and if you are trying to build relationships to establish yourself somewhere. Then maybe a face to face contact is better but at the same time if you are trying to use a different tone then maybe the network would work
    I say to eliminate them from the workplace probably won’t work.

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