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Social media policy or social media ban?

It will come as no surprise to anyone when I say; in the last 2-3 years social media has shifted the marketing paradigm; from pure content delivery to one of active consumer engagement. This has been driven by the need to maintain relevancy within the market which is consuming more and more social media.

Consider that in any 2 hours of 2010, on average:

  • 25,000 new users joined Twitter
  • 5.4 million tweets were sent
  • 5 million new status updates were published on Facebook
  • 1.6 million Facebook applications were installed
  • 167 million videos on YouTube were viewed

Whilst the tide of social media has developed well publicised momentum, many small and medium sized companies have failed to consider what it truly means for their business. Not from a marketing perspective, but rather from a hidden cost perspective. That is, many have not considered and planned for the way social media impacts their business internally.

A Blanket Approach

For many small and medium sized businesses, a real conundrum exists. Whilst they want to support their customers and communicate with them online, at the same time, many want to curtail and control their staff spending ‘work time’ on social platforms. They fail to see the irony in this, however, generally their rationale is pretty simple: They don’t want their productivity to drop as it costs the company financially.

In this instance many take what seems to be a logical approach: they ban access to all social media platforms through their firewall. This way no employee can access anything.

However, this approach has a number of shortcomings:

  • Some users may require access to social media for the purposes of maintaining the company Facebook page, or to monitor tweets about the company. They need to be given exemption to the block out which can make others jealous of their access
  • Smaller businesses usually reimburse employees for their mobiles, rather than supplying company contracted phones. As such, many employees can circumvent the firewall by accessing social platforms through their data connection on their phone. However, as data is generally slower through a mobile and because typing is slower on a smart phone, the time spent on the platform can increase as compared to on a computer
  • Staff often feel like they are being treated like children
  • Employees may decide to get clever and use proxy sites to get around your firewall. These sites allow staff to continue using social platforms, however, often at great cost to your business. What many don’t realise is that these proxies are often malware ridden platforms that infect the users’ computers and thus, as a business compromise your network and the valuable data you have on it
  • Business owners miss a valuable opportunity to discuss social media with their staff and to discover new opportunities. Furthermore, this also means companies miss the chance to discuss the threats of social media and how they can affect the business and the individual:
  • For example, many people do not realise that they should be aware of what they post online. Ideally they should protect their identity to some extent by allowing access to only people they know. Hackers are now using social media sites to create detailed profiles of potential targets and with this information are able to send through more detailed and ‘truthful’ phishing emails which have higher success rates on getting the recipient to click through to a dodgy website.

Advantages of an Implemented Social Media Policy

The above list does admittedly capture the downside of a complete ban, and whilst I acknowledge that there are some advantages to a ban, I believe the advantages of implementing a comprehensive digital policy incorporating security, best practice and social media outweigh any disadvantages.

Let me preface my reasons with this: There are a number of studies which have been conducted into the use of social media at work, with a majority finding that it’s use at work does not impact employee productivity. There is always the chance one staff member may abuse the privilege, but this is where a good digital policy has a place. If you have a well constructed and enforced digital policy incorporating a social media policy you are in good stead.  The social media policy component should:

  • Promote good social media security to employees at home and at work
  • Regularly change passwords
  • Profiles are locked down to friends only. This makes it harder for hackers to build profiles of your staff from their various platforms and therefore harder to develop phishing scams designed to grant access to your business network
  • Promote the practice of getting employees to research suspicious emails by calling the sender to verify matters in the email. This will help prevent them falling prey to phishing scams
  • Make employees aware of relevant IT risks, of new Spam, viruses and phishing threats and that you train them to know how to respond and to share their knowledge
  • Consider what KPIs can be set in place to help monitor whether an employee’s efficiency or integrity is compromised by social media use at work, allowing you to make more informed decisions
  • Seek to learn from the behaviour of your own staff and how they engage on social media
  • Have workshops on a regular basis to help your marketing staff learn from others. It’s almost like a free focus group.

Social Media represents a fantastic opportunity and simultaneously a threat to business. The key is how you manage it. Remember however, whatever your decision is with regards to social media usage at work, one of the most important things you can do is to communicate with your staff about the decision you make (or better still, involve them in the decision) so that they can understand why things are as they are.