So, here’s the thing. Long before the Covid pandemic, social media was already firmly-established as the number one tool for keeping tabs on the world, and sharing the inner workings of our minds.
Working from home during lockdown made this a necessity rather than a choice for many, as our inboxes overflowed with messages from colleagues.
But with more staff now back in the office, do Shropshire companies still have social media policies which are fit for modern-day purpose?
Nearly half of the world’s population is now online, and we spend an average of two hours a day sharing, liking, tweeting and posting updates.
It can also be an incredibly powerful communication tool, helping staff to collaborate, share ideas and solve problems.
But there are still many company owners out there who feel this behaviour escalates beyond acceptable levels during the working day, becoming a productivity killer and costly distraction.
The team behind SBLTV Knowledge regularly use platforms such as Linkedin and Facebook to canvass – and receive – views from the business community which aid editorial research.
That’s an effective and bona-fide benefit to the working day . . . assuming the communication is being made in a polite, sensible and respectful way, of course.
And ‘sensible’ is the key word here. Employers are now acutely aware of the impact the tone of social media posts can have on their brand, products, or profits. One mis-step from a junior staff member who only has half the facts on which to base an opinion, and your business can find itself going viral for all the wrong reasons.
Then there’s also the peril of so-called ‘legacy’ posts from your staff who may have posted long-forgotten thoughts years ago, only to find them dredged up and used in evidence.
But how to strike the right balance with working day access to this world which retains a common sense tolerance of office use, without generating unwelcome controversy and all the subsequent repercussions, can be a very fine line.
Latest research shows that 82% of employees think that social media can improve work relationships, and 60% believe it can also support and inform decision-making processes. But among bosses, those numbers take a noticeable dive.
Shrewsbury law firm Aaron & Partners has recognised the importance of the issue, and held a webinar on managing social media in the workplace to offer top tips to bosses.
Employment solicitor Tori Shepherd says: “Social media can be a great tool to connect with people – however in recent years it has significantly changed the way individuals interact with one another.
“Employers need to be ‘live’ to the fact that controversial or derogatory comments employees make on social media can have disastrous consequences to the employer’s business or their reputation.”
Her advice to Shropshire businesses is that, if they’ve not done so already, they should consider putting a social media policy in place.
“A social media policy should contain guidelines for responsible social media use, and the consequences of breaching these guidelines.
“Employees should be aware of whether they can use social media in the workplace; for example, Linkedin and Twitter have become prevalent in the workplace, whereas Instagram and Facebook are often more associated with personal use.
“But there can be an overlap between personal and business use depending on the nature of the employer’s business.
“It is important that employees are aware of what social media they can or cannot use during working hours. If they are indeed using social media, they need to know what they can or cannot say – regardless of whether this is during or outside working hours if it could have a detrimental impact on their employer or associate them with their employer.”
Many employers ask their staff not to refer to their employer or workplace on social media platforms, or engage in communications which could bring their employer into disrepute.
Comments such as ‘Views are entirely my own’, or ‘Retweets do not mean endorsements’ are often seen on people’s Twitter feeds these days. Some staff have separate accounts for work and private use.
Tori says: “Employers should make it clear in their policy that the consequences of breaching the social media policy include potential disciplinary action which could, in some cases, lead to dismissal.
“By having a social media policy, the employer may be able to take disciplinary action if a post is deemed inappropriate and, in some cases depending on the nature of the post and how this may impact the employer, the employer may also be able to ask that employee to take the social media post down from their platform.
“The reputational damage a derogatory or controversial social media post can have can be far-reaching. After all, anyone can go viral even if they had no intentions of doing so.
“Therefore, employers should clearly communicate to their employees the standards that are expected of them in view to manage the risks that can be posed by social media.”
Writing in Harvard Business Review, Lorenzo Bizzi revealed the results of his survey of workers into why and how they used platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
He said: “Employees who engage in online social interactions with co-workers through social media blogs tend to be more motivated and come up with innovative ideas.
“But when employees interact with individuals outside the organisation, they are less motivated and show less initiative.
“These findings suggest that the effects of social media depend on who employees interact with; employees who interact with their colleagues share meaningful work experiences, but those making connections outside the organisation are distracted and unproductive.”
Top tips for managing social media in the workplace
Put in place a social media policy that reflects the organisation’s rules in relation to social media use
Communication is key
Include social media within the disciplinary policy with examples of what could amount to misconduct and/or gross misconduct
Ensure managers are given guidelines and regular training so there is consistency of approach when it comes to employees using social media
Consider providing an ‘amnesty period’ to employees, for them to go through their old social media content and take down anything which may be in breach of the social media policy and guidelines
Issue an organisational statement to all staff on a regular basis about the standards of behaviour expected of them