Social media in the workplace - what small businesses should know

Social media can be very useful for small business, but can also do a lot of damage if not used properly.

A third of businesses have taken disciplinary action against employees over use of social media in the workplace – 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 small businesses need a social media policy?

Social media is a hugely powerful tool for both 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 travels very fast over a platform like Twitter, and it is therefore important that you think carefully about anything said in your business’s name.

You also need to think about your employees’ use of social media. Who is speaking in your name, and what are they saying?

Should businesses ban social media in the workplace?

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.

Firstly, banning social media at work indicates to your employees that you don’t 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.

On top of that, many employees will be tech-savvy, and could find ways to bypass your social media ban on their work computers - or just use their smartphones.

For many small businesses, the best idea 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.

It’s up to you whether you want to put a formal policy in place, make it part of employee induction, or just address the matter when it comes up - it’s all about finding what works best for you and your employees.

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.

1. Keep your message consistent

It is important 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.

2. Think about who has access

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’.

3. Monitor social activity

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 monitoring tools available to keep track of what’s being said about your brand online and, where appropriate, engage in those conversations.

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