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Perspective: Social Media In The Workplace (The Good, The Bad, & The Common Sense)

Perspective: Social Media In The Workplace (The Good, The Bad, & The Common Sense)
Posted by Dexter Nelson: Monday, November 19, 2012 (6:47 PM)

social media in the workplaceWelcome to Today I'm starting a new feature and changing the direction of my blog from only providing information, to weighing both sides of important topics in the IT field and delivering a complete perspective.

But even more than presenting two sides of the same coin, I hope to present a basis for both sides of an issue to come to a mutual understanding.

Social Media in the workplace has been a topic in the IT field since the rise of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the whole paradigm of social media entered into the realm of business and personal lives, and it has many facets that need exploring.

Legal Perspective: Social Media In The Workplace

Social media in the workplace has become just as much as a social issue as it is an IT issue, but before we continue on with the IT considerations, let's take a look at something a bit more serious - the legal aspects of Social media in the workplace. [VIDEO] featuring Jonna Contacos-Sawyer, CCP, CMC SPHR (Assistant Professor, St. Francis University & President, HR Consultants), and Albert Lee (Attorney and Shareholder, Tucker Arensberg Attorneys).



  1. Improves Branding
  2. Increase sales
  3. ROI for recruitment strategy


  1. Can cause damage to reputation (for employers are saying offensive things or not factual about their companies)
  2. Decrease in productivity (more time online instead of doing the job)

Presented as both a legal and social issue, once someone puts something out on social media, they can't take it down, and whatever is put out can possibly stand as a bad representation of the company if a person's content is controversial, if they are misbehaving in some way, or otherwise leaves a bad impression.

Putting aside for a moment that one of the reported reasons that employees use social media in the workplace is boredom or lack of fulfillment on the job, (and what role a company can play in decreasing those cases), there is the social issue... rather a rights issue.

Your Rights: Social Media In The Workplace

Don't you have the right to post what you want, when you want about your employer?

This will be a surprising for both employers and employees. Yes and No. For the employee, one of the things that has to be considered when posting, is whether the information is true or not. Libel, or defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures, including the crime of publishing it, can leave the poster open to suit.

Even more seriously, breach of contract or revealing sensitive, confidential, or otherwise secret information that's addressed in a hiring package, or any confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements can have some severe legal ramifications that can carry some hefty fines and even serve up jail time.

Also, both employers and employees should be aware that it is not necessarily a violation of the constitution for not allowing social media in the workplace. As explained in the video, the freedom of speech only applies if the employee works for a public company, such as government organizations, schools and so on.

If the employe works for a private company however, there is the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the rights of an employee to choose whether to unionize, or choose not to be in a union. Part of that law also requires that employees have the right to be able to complain about work (including how much they are making, if they don't like their supervisor or management, policy, and more.). So be aware that this can go either way.

What Part Do You Play & Employers Play?

Let's back track a bit to the point that was put aside earlier about what role an employer should play in trying to eliminate boredom and lack of job fulfillment.

Should an employer provide a means for social media in the workplace to be included in the job? 

Instead of offering my opinion, Intel Corporation's Laurie Buczek (digital marketing) provides an insight into communications that everyone should pay attention to.

The point was raised that a lot of companies cut off Internet access and restrict the use of social media in the workplace, but that is the equivalent of putting your head in the sand as it eliminates, to a degree the level of collaboration necessary to increase productivity.

In the way of environment, (in my opinion), such restrictions can also crush creativity and isolate your employees from the outside world, which may not be the best approach to foster fulfillment and making sure that your employees are satisfied and happy with their jobs.

Hiring Practices: Social Media In The Workplace

I know this all seems like a rush of information, but there is one more issue of social media in the workplace - the hiring process and use of interviewee information in determining whether or not it can be used to hire (or not hire) a prospect. [VIDEO] April Calkovsky (ASC Internship Specialist) addresses this topic.

What's the take away? As April Calkovsky point out, "All employers are doing Internet searches on candidates for research, from major corporations to small companies to government agencies." The take away here is that if you are job hunting, please be aware that your online presence could, and probably will affect your ability to be hired, and as with anything else, your online reputation is just as important as your offline reputation (aka reference checking).

The guidelines recommended are:

  1. Monitor inappropriate profile pictures
  2. Refrain from unprofessional status or tweet updates
  3. Untag yourself from photos that may be deemed controversial by employers
  4. Caution in posting opinion pieces in notes, tweets, and other published material that can be considered controversial
  5. Do not reveal too many personal flaws

But before you run out and decide not to have a social media presence at all, this too can hurt your ability to be hired. Not having a social media presence can hurt your chances of not being hired if you are in a field where having social media is an asset, such as sales and advertising, marketing, public relations, and any field where being social and outgoing is a requirement to perform your duties well.

Again, the argument arises that social media is personal space, and an employer shouldn't use it, (Facebook profiles for example), to decide whether or not you can get a job.

The video above presents an interesting point. After an interview, an employer may want to see if you really are who you presented in the interview and try to find out more about you. I choose to think of it as an online reference check where instead of calling your past jobs, friends and family, they look to your circle of friends as a means to determine whether or not they'll hire you. It's a great example of using social media in the workplace as a recruitment tool.

Summing Up Social Media In the Workplace

This for me was especially difficult to sum up. Social media in the workplace has many things to balance and it was difficult to put this all in perspective so that both sides can see the other on even ground, but this is how I've broken it up.

What Employers Need To Be Aware Of:

Employers need to be aware that social media in the workplace has both benefits and very valid concerns, but instead of restricting the use of it, follow the example of companies like Hootsuite who have integrated social media into their operations.

As we've seen, there is not much a company can do to prevent the use of social media in the workplace without blurring the line of either breaking the law or denying someone of their constitutional rights, but the good news is that your hands aren't tied either.

The best protection lies in creating policy that integrates social media use into your operation, and tie that to the code of conduct in employee agreements. Just as you would protect yourself with any other agreement in business, this should be no different. Putting your head in the sand isn't going to make any issues go away because you can't control your employees when they aren't at work. Having a social media policy unties your hands, (so to speak).

What Employees Need To Be Aware Of:

Employees or prospective employees need to understand that putting out too much information is detrimental to your career. It's amazing at how many powerful people are brought down by something like a small controversy that may not even be true.

Your reputation is always at stake, and what you put out on social media can't be taken back down, so be weary of what you make available to the public.

Also, strive to use social media in the workplace for productivity, not just blowing off work because you are bored. One of the concepts of success is taking action to get higher pay, get that promotion, and reap those extra benefits and rewards, so while it's great to have tools that let you keep in touch with friends and family throughout the workday, you can also leverage social media to become an integral part of your company.

Strive to be irreplaceable and build the post possible job security on top of the other rewards.

Foster connections and build a personal network in your industry so that new connections and ideas and opportunities for the business comes through you. Make yourself valuable to your company. Hopefully your employer will have found a way to integrate social media, or is working on integrating social media in the workplace, but even if they aren't, you can still leverage the Internet to grow and prosper.

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Dexter Nelson
TechDex Development & Solutions


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