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June 1st, 2009

Crossing the Personal/Professional Line on Social Networks

Employees worth their salt struggle with something every time they post an update to Twitter, Facebook or even their personal blog: “Will this post/update reflect positively or negatively on my employer or clients?” Sometimes they make the right decision and sometimes they don’t. That’s just the way things are. Companies and agencies are struggling with how hard to come down on employee usage themselves, as laid out in a recent BusinessWeek story.

Social networking is a love-hate relationship. On the one hand managers want their workers to experiment so they can cultivate new-world skills. Employees as brand ambassadors! Products virally transformed into overnight hits! On the other hand, bosses are filled with foreboding about social networking’s dark side—losing secrets to rivals, the corporate embarrassment of errant employee tweets, becoming the latest victim of a venomous crowd.

Unfortunately a new Deloitte survey says that somewhere around 55 percent of companies do not have a social media policy. This despite the other finding that 74 percent of employees believe social media usage has the potential to their their employer’s reputation damage. That is only slightly incongruent with the finding that 53 percent say their social network profile is none of their employer’s business.

There are a couple of things that all parties need to keep in mind regarding employee status updates and blog posts.

  • Employees: Trashing a client or company, even when you don’t name them, just isn’t cool. They’re paying you money and saying “This client is being so difficult” on Twitter is tantamount to rolling your eyes while someone’s giving a presentation. I know you might be accustomed to over-sharing with your online friends, but it’s time to grow some internal filters. Save it for a get-it-off-your-chest rant in your boss’ office or when you go out for a drink tonight.
  • Employers: Make sure you have your employee’s back in case they do say something out of school. Unless they’re violating SEC rules or actually wind up costing you an account, most perceived violations are going to be pretty minor and you need to realize that everyone makes mistakes. Defend your employees’ actions and turn a mistake into a teaching moment for the whole agency or company.
  • Employees: Remember that everything you do online can be connected back to your employer through a five-minute Google search, if not direct links on your profile or blog. If you wouldn’t say it while walking down the street wearing a company t-shirt, it probably shouldn’t be said online.
  • Employers: Keep in mind that many of these profiles and blogs were started long before someone started working for you. If they were using their Twitter account to talk to people about personal matters before you started paying them you can’t really expect them to stop now that you are. You can ask them to keep the conversation civil and to not talk about anything inappropriate and that’s fine. But then don’t have as an expectation that they’ll also use that account to pimp company/client news and start nit-picking everything.
  • Employees: Follow the guidelines for social media your employer has laid out. If you have issues it’s your responsibility to suggest changes and engage in an dialogue. Don’t just ignore them because you feel you’re being oppressed. You might think you have a right to write whatever you want, but your employer also has the right to fire your rule-breaking hinder.
  • Employers: Write guidelines for social media that are the result of a dialogue with your employees and make revisions based on changing times and opinions. Yeah, you can fire people for breaking those rules, but don’t do so cavalierly, only after you’ve tried to change behavior and actions.

Keeping these sorts of common sense points in mind will save everyone a headache as well as setting the foundation for a constructive dialogue that will make sure everyone gets their concerns and viewpoints across.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Blogging, Career Development, Social Media

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