Guest Column | May 14, 2014

Social Media In The Workplace – Friend Or Foe?

VanessaLeiby

By Vanessa M. Leiby, WWEMA Executive Director

Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube—these are just a few of the more popular social media sites that have found their way into the workplace. In fact, use of these sites has begun to blur the distinction between home and office, particularly with the ubiquitous presence of personal devices such as Droids and iPhones.

While some companies would like to ban the personal use of these devices and sites in the work place, it seems unlikely that the approach will be successful. Other companies may bury their heads in the sand and “hope” the situation does not lead to viruses, compromised company websites, employee harassment, or flagging productivity. 

Bottom line: This is not a fad. Your customers and your employees are using social media, and the enlightened company will acknowledge this and take steps to harness the positive and protect themselves from the negative.

Let’s begin with your customers. A company can use social media outlets to gather marketing information and trends, communicate new products, share company goals and achievements, recruit new hires, and help shape public opinion—all very positive. However, those same outlets can be the “kiss of death” if disgruntled employees or the public start targeting your company.

To protect itself, every company should develop a Social Media Policy. For company use of social media, this policy should reflect the company’s code of ethics, address legal compliance issues, include guidelines for creating social media content, request disclosure of individuals’ affiliation with the company, and base content on responsibility and respect.  All staff involved in creating public content should adhere to the Social Media Policy and there should be clear actions identified should enforcement become an issue.

The more difficult and challenging policy is one that deals with employee use of social media, both for business and personal use in the workplace. While a number of studies have been published demonstrating that social media can enhance productivity, just as many have been published demonstrating how much time is wasted every day by employees engaged in non-work related activities.

Wasted time is just one aspect of social media use in the workplace. Cyber bullying and other forms of harassment do occur. Use of these sites can open a company’s computer system to viruses and hackers and affect bandwidth as well.

In crafting a policy for employees, companies need to be aware of individual state regulations as well as the policies of the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Such a policy should establish a clear and defined purpose for the policy, communicate the benefits of having such a policy, refer to confidentiality of employer trade secrets and private or confidential information, discuss productivity issues, discuss use of social media outside the office that could be associated with the company, and outline disciplinary actions for violations. For those companies interested in developing a Social Media Policy – one only has to conduct a quick search using Google to find examples.

Vanessa Leiby is Executive Director of the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA). Founded in 1908, WWEMA serves as the voice of water and wastewater solution providers, who are working together to advance the interests of their individual businesses as well as the water industry as a whole. For more information, visit www.wwema.org