Home Articles Social media in the office…What rules?

Social media in the office…What rules?

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Have you banned Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter in the workplace or are you actively encouraging staff to participate in online conversations?

Employers across the globe are scrambling to update their corporate policies to deal with the phenomenon that is social networking.

The discussion surfaced in our office last week after US Open tennis player Andy Roddick was told by tournament organisers to be careful what he posted on Twitter. I wasn’t surprised with his Twitter response:

i think its lame the US Open is trying to regulate our tweeting.. i understand the on-court issue but not sure they can tell us if we can [break] can’t do it on our own time…. we’ll see

Decision-makers the world over are struggling with how to best manage the social web and deciding on the roles businesses and employees should play.

Whether you like it or not, online conversations are occurring every day around your brand and cannot be stopped.

Progressive companies including Dell, JetBlue, Telstra, Cadbury and Zappos are participating and achieving results from social networking, but the majority of corporations are apprehensive about the medium.

Social media is a powerful tool, if used properly. Companies are not only promoting products and services but also conducting market research and dealing with customer queries in real-time.

Not every company has the luxury of Zappos to wholeheartedly trust all staff members to converse with the public. For those companies, guidelines help staff understand how to appropriately engage. The trick is to write the guidelines in a straightforward, human manner, and not to overwhelm with corporate or legalese. Intel’s set of social media guidelines are thorough and clear, and would probably serve as a great starting point for any organisation.

A travel company I’m familiar with banned Facebook in the workplace, a decision I think was a mistake. Firstly, morale in the office dropped, which had a negative result on sales, since customers can pick-up on unhappy workers. Secondly, the company failed to harness the power of the social web, when they should have embraced the technology.

We’re all aware of fan pages on Facebook – companies use them for product updates, etc. – but what’s more effective is a friend’s recommendation of a product. The reality is, people are more likely to buy a product from a recommendation than an advertisement.

To leverage the power of recommendations, companies should be encouraging their staff to use Facebook and other social networking sites to promote company products they personally like. This approach not only targets the end-user more effectively. It also involves the front-line staff in the bigger picture.

Some of the biggest concerns employers have with social media relate to negative feedback about their brand and the leaking of confidential information. But what about the opportunities? We have a client from Germany whose relationship started on LinkedIn.

While communicating online is simpler than in traditional media, the same confidentiality policies should apply to staff. As with any company activity, a set of guidelines needs to be developed that sets the boundaries for staff – and social media is no exception.

The case with Andy Roddick is a good example of the challenges organisations can expect to face in the future when balancing social media in the workplace. NFL star Chad Ochocinco is trying to beat the governing body at their own game. The NFL has banned players from tweeting from the sidelines, which has resulted in Chad getting fans to tweet on his behalf via a complex process of hand-signals.

It’s important for companies to realise that social media is just another way to communicate and should not be treated like some foreign activity. If you ignore this space, your competitors are waiting and will likely steal your thunder (and clients).

James Coleman is a Senior Online Strategist at www.theonlinecircle.com where he spends a large percentage of his day interacting on social networking sites. Having lived in New York, sees many opportunities for Australian businesses to grow via this exciting medium.

Photo: HikingArtist

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