Should Employees Be Allowed to Use Social Media?

Since the Web hit the mainstream more than a decade ago, there has been an ongoing debate how much access, if any, that employers should allow their employees. The issue, which has embraced everything from productivity to piracy, has been exacerbated by the rise of social media and its role as a communications medium.

Not surprisingly, many employers are not terribly enthusiastic about employees using social media at work because of the potential to distract them and consume large amounts of time. Meanwhile, employees contend social media is a way for them to stay connected with friends and family while still getting their work done.

But the question is whether social media should or needs to be used by all employees, particularly if it has nothing to do with their job or whether its use might be problematic or controversial.

An interesting development within the social media/employee debate emerged yesterday when the Ontario College of Teachers released a report recommending that teachers neither accept or send out — Facebook friend requests involving students. The report also suggested teachers avoid texting and never communicate with students using a personal e-mail account.

There are obviously two sides to this issue. One is that social media offers new ways for teachers to communicate and engage with students. The flip side is it also plays into the sensitive areas of teacher-student relationships. Just how connected should teachers be with students? What are the rules of engagement within a medium in which the lines between professional and personal blend so easily?

While the Ontario College of Teachers’ recommendations may be seen as draconian or severe, it is clear it is leaning towards being cautious, which may seem like it’s going against the grain at a time when social media is increasingly ubiquitous.

At the same time, it does offer a new slant to the use of social media within the professional landscape – something many companies are still trying to get their heads around.

What do you think? Should social media be allowed within the corporate landscape?

10 Comments on “Should Employees Be Allowed to Use Social Media?”

  1. Ugh, I am going to start by saying that I’m a huge hypocrite. I love social media and I clandestinely use it at work ALL THE TIME. I’m sure people notice, but no one says anything to stop it. So I keep using it. And given that I use it so much, I know that it is TOTALLY distracting (which is probably why I love using it). I do manage to get my work done but it’s probably not of a quality that it would be if I was not tweeting and updating my FB status all the time. So yes I believe that social media hinders production and efficiency. And yet, I would probably have to stage a revolt if one of my bosses told me to stop using it!

  2. If you allow the use of social media in the same way you allow cell phone (telephone) use, smoking, tea breaks, communication with family members, reading in the restrooms or any other possible distracting activity it should not be a problem.

    In any case, a well-connected employee can reduce vacancy advertising costs.

  3. If I understand the article correctly the Ontario recommendation discussed whether or not staff should engage in communication with students via Social Media but the question “Should Employees Be Allowed to Use Social Media?” is somewhat different.

    If the questions relates to use of Social Media in the same way as giving a member of staff access to a phone or permission to text then then answer must almost certainly be yes, with all the same AUP caveats that an employer would put around the use of the other communication methods.

  4. Asking this question is kind of like asking “Should employees be allowed to use computers?” or how about “Should employees be allowed to use telephones?”

    The better question is to ask “How do we train our employees to use social media in a way that it benefits our organization?”

    You can read my thoughts on this topic at:

    Attention Corporate Executives! Your Time For Social Media Leadership Is Now! http://bit.ly/ehu5r6

    –Sean
    @socmedsean

  5. I read an article that says employees who use social media tend to be more productive than those who didn’t. I thought this statement was ridiculous at first.

    Their rationale was that social media updates have replaced phone calls to friends and family during work hours. Updating a Facebook status, sending a IM, or a Twitter update takes a couple of seconds. A phone call may last a couple of minutes.

  6. I agree that the Ontario example addresses a different set of issues than that implied by the headline.

    The simple fact of the matter is that employees don’t need their employer’s permission to use social media. If they want to access their accounts at work, they can easily do so using smart phones.

    Given that, access at work should not be addressed as a productivity issue, but rather as a resource and risk management issue. If an employer doesn’t want its own property used by employees to access their personal accounts to help cut down on costs, manage bandwith, and/or reduce their exposure to viruses and other risks, that’s certainly appropriate.

    In addition, they should address other ways of managing associated risks by developing and implementing robust social media policies and the necessary communications and training to support them. I’ve written about that topic in a blog post entitled, “Social Media Policies: Necessary but not Sufficient,” which can be accessed via http://tiny.cc/SMinOrgsPolicyPost.

    Which brings us back to the Ontario example. All things considered, their policy is probably appropriate; however, I would suggest they also consider establishing a private social network that provides a way for faculty, staff, students, and parents in interact with each other in a controlled environment that would allow them to realize the benefits of new 2.0 technologies in a way that reduces risk.

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community
    Principal, Renaissance Strategic Solutions

  7. yes and now. It’s no brainer to see that social media is here to stay for good. Given vast variety of the existing channels to choose and stick with, it’s time for such a hot space to enter into a new category. There is a need for a portal to provide a quick and intelligent decision for both the consumer and the enterprise about their online connections.

    A Platform to Help us to Distinguish Our Quality vs. Quantity Friends, Fans, Followers, and Companies

    Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, Flickr and others have been doing a decent job of providing additional marketing exposure and even in some cases, additional revenue. However, as more and more social networking sites pop up, how do you manage your brand across all these channels? Maybe more importantly, which one of these sites should you select as the one that will help you best reach your target audience? The proliferation of the social media avenues is becoming overwhelming.

    This glut of information reminds me of the early 90’s when WWW was adopted broadly by the general public. Every company rushed to have a presence, to the point it became literally impossible to find the right information on the Web. That’s when a better generation of search engines – at first the Yahoo! and then Google – entered the market and helped us find the most relevant information by just typing simple keywords in their search box. If you had asked before Google launched, if there was a need for another search engine – most would have said no, we already have those….

    Then came Web 1.0 & 2.0 – Youtube, Flickr, myspace, Facebook, Twitter and countless others have turned everyday people into content producers, influencers and experts. We basically tripled down on the information overload How do you know which channels to select for deploying your social media strategy? How do you know which one is the right channel to let your fans and followers to find you, your products, and services? Most importantly, who is Joe Smith that is recommending that person, that company, that product?

    I hope my awesomize.me can accomplish such a mission. The site is not another social networking platform. Yet the portal to all your existing social media channels. The platform helps you, your fans, your potential clients to make an intelligent decision as to which company to connect to or follow via which social media channels and why? It’s free!

    Elias
    CEO & Founder
    http://awesomize.me

  8. Of course. Any external social media strategy should be accompanied by an internal Social Business Infrastructure (SBI). The employees should be at the heart of that SBI as it is a powerful knowledge resource that companies often forget about. The tacit and explicit knowledge of the employees should be exploited not ignored and their direct and indirect social network could be far reaching.

    1. David,

      I’ve never heard of the term “Social Business Infrastructure” but I like the concept. Thanks for the insight. Mark

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