HR’s Grasp on Social Media

Everyday People 2I recently presented at a summit in Hartford with my colleague Danielle. Our breakout session was focused on educating small to mid-sized businesses about social media and which platform(s) might be right for their organizations. At the end of our presentation, we opened it up to questions.

One question that sticks in my mind was from a gentleman who worked at a large health insurance company. He asked (I’m paraphrasing), “From a Human Resources standpoint, what do we do to control or monitor our employees’ use of Social Media?”

I think this is a valid question that needs to be asked.

Working at a PR firm staffed by ten people, I’m coming from a different angle. However, I do have a friend who works in HR at a large helicopter manufacturer. He can’t even get onto the L.L. Bean website, or a site that has “blog” in the title url. So much is blocked by their IT department from employee use. All of this to maintain employee productivity, among other things.

My first thought (which was then eloquently shared in another presentation by a colleague of mine from the CT Association of Nonprofits): Your employees are out living their lives on their free time, they are probably talking about you, and they are probably even talking about you while they are on the clock! Do you have an HR policy for that? Ah ha!

Then I thought a little more about the question. Something disparaging spoken about your company is no good, of course. But if your employees are saying unflattering things about your company, they obviously aren’t doing it on a grandstand to 500 people (“Hi! I want to get fired!”). Perhaps one to three people heard this dissatisfied employee’s remarks. And odds are, it could be forgotten in time.

When your employees say something negative about your company on Twitter, Facebook, and/or on a blog, that is permanent! Not only is what they said essentially etched in the proverbial stone that is the Internet, but it can be retweeted, and referenced, and copied and spread (quite easily).

I willingly admit that I have ZERO HR experience. But this is my two cents on monitoring employee use of Social Media. The best suggestion that comes to mind to ward off such a travesty: hire good people. That’s the first step.

What do you think about monitoring or restricting employee Social Media use? Is it reasonable or is it a little “Big Brother” for you?

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  • I'm wish you, I have zero HR experience, but I think you're definitely right! Hiring good people from the start who know not to spend their day on Twitter or blast your company on Facebook are the best choices.

    I social media is just another distraction, but there have always been distractions at the work place. Odds are you have a few friends you chat with on a regular basis, but does HR monitor your conversations at the water cooler to make sure you're not blasting the company or losing productivity? At least at my company they don't!

  • jeffespo

    Great post Kate and it is an interesting scenario for companies to be in with social media. While I have no HR experience, I have been called the creepy guy on the second floor (by HR folks) for finding mentions of our company across the Web.

    As social media is a form of a communication, it is a policy that needs to be written by someone on the company's MarComm, PR or communications team – an agency could also pull an assist on this one – with HR helping enforce the repercussions for saying the wrong thing.

    While blocking sites would fall to a company's IT and management as to what kinds of sites they don't want employees viewing. I would argue that any blocking is counter productive, but that's just me. In terms of setting rules and regulations around what employees can say about your company out in the open is just smart business.

    While Robert Scobel might have made a name for himself with his work with Microsoft, your average company might not be as forgiving if you bash their product and praise a competitor.

  • willfessenden

    Great topic Kate. In the next couple of months I will be speaking with two HR Groups concerning this very issue. There are several issues for management and HR to juggle. One, does your business deal with sensitive information or issues of confidentiality (hospitals)? Are there opportunities to engage employees in conversations?

    Every company, non-profit or organization needs to set their own guidelines which are appropriate for their particular situation. In any case, employees need to be properly educated and management needs to have a thorough understanding of social networking and the positive opportunities it may present for them.

    Use it, engage in it, don't shut your eyes and pretend social networking isn't all around us.

  • I agree — hiring good people is a solid first step. However, I also agree with limiting social media at work. I think that it IS a distraction and can hinder productivity. I think that it is important for businesses to participate in social media, but I also think that it should be from an appointed representative.

    I think employees should be able to have their own personal Twitter accounts and their free speech should not be limited. But their Tweets are on their own time, not company time. –Tara

  • Greatly thought provoking post… i take @garyvee's perspective… if your company does not allow you to get on SM sites is one of the reasons you need to start thinking of working elsewhere. (think how you'd react if your hotel room offered only a modem connection vs. wifi)

    Now, I'm not advocating people getting up and leaving because their boss wont let them chat with College buddies all day (ignoring work)… what I'm saying is that you need to consider the greater 'control' issue of censoring which was beget by 'fear of the unknown'… in certain industries (like PR) that is unacceptable to me… if companies understood the benefits (as well as the implications) of SM appropriately they would be open to it from both ends, monitoring as well as encouraging personal/professional development through it.

    I, as well, am no HR expert.

  • I have worked in many spectrums of the business world – from management to marketing, to auditing and asset protection and also HR and training. I definitely believe in the “hire good people” mantra – however in my experience I have seen many essentially “good people” – go bad. With the lack of proper relationship building, and associate accountability throughout the organization – these fundamentally “good people” turn to “not so good.” For example – In a previous life, I worked my way up through a large corporation. Throughout my transition I had the opportunity to train many associates, and manage them as well. What happened? I became “Miss Fix it” – going from one location to another, constantly building relationships with people and then “abandoning them.” I would always maintain relationships with them – but was only able to do so to an extent as now there was a new location to fix. Eventually through hard work this paid off for me, but I witnessed many others be “let go” for less than desirable business tactics. Actions such as stealing – whether it be something tangible like money or product, to intangible like time and resources. These were otherwise “good people” but over time, the “company” forgot them, didn't recognize them, made them feel worthless. This “feeling” could have come from corporate, and trickle downwards through middle management to the associate level. For a large corporation it is a wonderful ideal to have all “good people” working with and for you – and this is what we should all strive for – but unfortunately in many situations this ideal is squelched by other things, more “important” issues taking precedence and the “good people” being forgotten.

  • So important! A policy needs to be in place. A detailed policy. Let's be honest, many of these larger companies aren't going to stop blocking sites. Often times there's more anger and defiance when workers are essntially put in “time out” ('we are restricting any use of Facebook in the office, but we're not going to spell out the reasons for you.'). Once you have a concrete plan with reasonable statements for why these terms are in place, it might go over a littler smoother.

  • I couldn't agree more! Those who are implementing policy need to fully understand it and explain it…”walking the walk.” And every organization does differ so drastically that it's impossible to create a perfect formula.

  • jeffespo

    They take time to write, but do help in the long run. Companies also need to be more flexible. The old communications policies need to be torn up to an extent and be enabling while offering guidelines that cover the proverbial ass of the company, should someone do something dumb.