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Social Media Policy - an unusual way to defining the rules

social media policy

One of the first things to decide when defining the boundaries in a social media policy is if personal use by employees will be allowed. That's always a tough one.

Pros:  Allowing personal use of social media shows a flexible trusting culture where you allow the individual to determine their work pace. As long as the job gets done, right?

Cons:  Abuse of personal use of social media can very easily get out of hand and results in significant decreases in productivity and focus and increased costs for the employer.  Often, the use of social media has become so ingrained in our day-to-day lives that it is part of our DNA and it is hard to give up the connection addiction at work. It's become an entitlement. However, like drinking coffee at work, sometimes you just realize or think about the fact that you drank 10 cups of coffee today. The number just sneaks up on you without your realizing that you had too much. Most employees would likely be shocked to find out how much non-work-related activities they engage in during the work day.  It's not something most of us think about or track.

So how to decide what to include in your social media policy?  The subject of monitoring personal activities in the workplace is such a sensitive issue and management rarely wants to deal with it.

Social Media Policy - a not-so-conventional approach

Perhaps consider the following ongoing strategy to help you determine if personal use of social media will be allowed in your work world. What if you gave employees the opportunity to earn their right to personal internet activities and show management that they can be disciplined about their personal use of social media (or general internet use)?

What if you were to communicate to your employees that every quarter, the Company will publish the aggregate of all internet activity in the organization over a period of 3 months. This would include the number of hours spent on Face Book, Twitter, YouTube, and other popular social and chat sites. The statistics would not include information at an individual level. Only aggregate or 'team' results.  If the team as a whole shows no signs of abuse, status quo of open season on personal internet use remains.

This approach does 2 things:

  1. It opens this taboo but important topic up for discussion with a transparent approach for all involved.  Yes, there's a bit of Big Brother involved, but it's more like a little brother since it does not monitor or single out the individual.
  2. It provides your staff with the opportunity to control their destiny with regards to personal internet use. If visits to non-work related sites are too high, the report and the plan agreed-to by staff, will dictate the next steps. If personal use is acceptable, status quo remains.

Couple of sidebars on this topic:

  1. You will need to exclude from the report the quarterly stats of accessing social media sites by employees who legitimately use these sites for business use as part of their jobs.
  2. If you allow employees to engage in personal use of the internet, then the trade off may be that the personal use of mobile devices is very restricted.  Newsflash:  Accessing social media sites no longer requires a work internet connection. It can be accessed from any personal mobile device (ie cell phone) where engagement happens on a construction site, at the cash register (my favorite), or while driving your business delivery van.  It is no longer a front office phenomenon.  And when was the last time you met someone who did not own a PMB?

I know of one CEO who allows personal internet use in the Company as part of their social media policy, but prohibits the non-work-related use of personal mobile devices in the workplace. His philosophy is that if someone is unable to reach one of his employees in an emergency via the main switchboard, he insists on being contacted personally on his cell phone, and alternatively his assistant's.  He will ensure the individual gets the urgent message.  It may sound a little out of place in today's laissez-fair workplace cultures, but the organization does have the right to manage its workforce and its business rules. In this CEO's case, his no-PMD rule has simply become part of the company's norms and culture and employees and their spouses and friends have adjusted quite nicely.

If this sounds like an approach that could work for your small business social media policy, give your IT person a call and discuss what's possible.  And keep us posted on how the story ends.

Ariane Laird Vancouver

Ariane Laird is CEO & Founder of ConnectsUs HR, a company that provides tools & resources to quickly set up a Human Resources department.  
You can contact her directly from the Inquiry Type drop down menu.