Social media and your employees - building a policy

Social media is a dangerous thing. While it can present small businesses with vast marketing opportunities, it can also make life very difficult for firms that don’t take it seriously.

A third of firms have taken disciplinary action against employees over social media use – often because of something those employees wrote on Facebook or Twitter. In order to harness the power of social media, and prevent potentially damaging situations, you need to think carefully about the way these tools are used by employees.

Why do I need a social media policy?

Social media is a hugely powerful tool for businesses and individuals. It gives everyone the opportunity to connect with huge numbers of people very quickly and very easily. This clearly has enormous benefits for businesses of every size – but it also, inevitably, carries some risks.

Social media, when poorly handled, can be a disaster. A poorly constructed message (or, indeed, any kind of bad news) travels very fast over a medium like Twitter, and it is therefore important that you think carefully about anything said in your business’s name.

As the survey suggests, though, you also need to think about your employees’ use of social media. Who is speaking in your name, and what are they saying?

Shouldn't I just ban it at work?

Many businesses have chosen to ban employees’ use of social media in the workplace, with some blocking access to the sites. This might seem like an obvious solution – but there are several reasons why this is potentially a very bad decision.

Primarily, banning social media at work indicates to your workforce that you do not trust them. If you feel the need to block these sites, you should instead be thinking about how you can motivate and inspire your employees to spend their time on work, rather than on Facebook.

Secondly, you should recognise that your employees are probably more technically savvy than you are. They are probably perfectly capable of getting around a ban on social media, for example by using proxies – or, just as easily, by using their smartphones.

The idea, then, is not to ban social media – but instead to find a balance such that employees feel that they are being trusted, but are also not spending every minute of their working day hitting refresh on Facebook.

What about messages in my business's name?

This is perhaps the most important consideration when it comes to social media. An increasing proportion of small businesses are now recognising the benefits of social media, and are ensuring that they have a presence on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

But many businesses have been caught out by social media’s ability to spread bad news (or simple mistakes) very quickly. It is imperative that you think carefully about the messages you broadcast on these platforms. They should be integrated into your other marketing, in order that your business has a rounded, consistent voice across all channels.

You should also think about who you will entrust your social media accounts too. All too frequently, small businesses simply give the passwords to the intern, presuming that it is just like a data entry job. In reality, though, social media requires the attention of someone who knows the business inside out, and who you can trust to speak compellingly and to stay ‘on message’.

Finally, you should also ensure that you are monitoring social media for mentions of your brand. Remember that social media is a conversation, not a one-way broadcast. Use some of the many free social media monitoring tools available to keep track of what’s being said about your brand online and, where appropriate, engage in those conversations.