What you don’t know can hurt you: assessing your organisation’s social media use

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This article was written by Steve Miranda, Managing Director of Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (CAHRS), a partnership between industry and academia devoted to the field of global human resource management.

With social media, what you don’t know can seriously hurt your organization. An offensive or inappropriate blog post, tweet or Facebook comment can damage your brand, lower employee morale, and even lead to workplace lawsuits. Yet, providing technology tools, such as social media, also is one way to empower and engage employees. Social media can speed innovation and collaboration, but only if your employees know how to use it within a well-defined framework.

For HR leaders, the critical first step in developing that framework is admitting they don’t know.

Simple questionnaires can surface extremely important information that, especially in larger organizations, you may not be aware of. Even smaller organizations have disconnects between departments. Big or small, these organisational “black holes” tend to happen around situations, like past litigation, where confidentiality is a big concern. In these cases, policy-relevant information often gets hidden from those who most need it. But by asking the right questions, you no longer have to fear “not knowing” and its potential risks.

For managers

To assess how managers handle social media in your organisation, you need to not only know how they’re managing its use, but also how its use by employees is affecting their management:

  • Are managers aware of all applicable laws, as well as legal issues, related to social media use and data privacy in the areas in which they do business or manage employees? -- If managers don’t know what rules and regulations govern social media use at work, this leaves you, and them, open to litigation and fines.
  • Could they comply with either an internal or court-ordered “social media audit”? -- Managers are already required to keep detailed records of hiring, disciplinary actions, purchases, or contractor selection for potential audits or investigations. Social media use at work is no exception, especially as electronic business records (EBR) are increasingly being entered as evidence in lawsuits.
  • Have their employees’ use of social media ever triggered a workplace lawsuit or regulatory investigation? -- This is the type of information that tends to fall into those organisational “black holes.” Confidentiality concerns, especially for the plaintiff, often lead managers to hush up these situations; the truth, however, is essential in order for policies to prevent similar future problems.
  • Have their employees’ personal use of social media during work hours impacted productivity? -- The answer to this question doesn’t necessarily signal that social media use at work is “good” or “bad;” it’s just another data point. For example, some top-performing employees may spend four hours each day updating Facebook and Twitter, while their less productive colleagues spend half that much time.

For employees

Getting honest responses from employees about their social media use at work is critical for accurately assessing your organisation’s baseline; don’t be afraid to ask because you may not like the answers. Conduct anonymous, unsigned, untracked surveys, and give employees multiple assurances that their responses won’t lead to disciplinary action or impact their job safety:

  • How familiar are employees with your company’s social media acceptable use policies, and have they ever received formal training on them? -- If you already have a social media policy, answers to this question will tell you how good you’re doing communicating it throughout the organisation. If you have no policy, the answers give you hard numbers to bolster your case as to why social media policies and training are important, especially if social media is a significant part of your organisation’s revenue-generating practices.
  • Have they either intentionally or accidentally violated your organization’s social media policies? -- If the answers you got to the first question reveal widespread lack of familiarity or knowledge of your social media policies, don’t be surprised by what employees tell you here. Conversely, if you communicate well and give all employees formal policy training, then answers here could surface serious cultural disconnects.
  • Do they know what an electronic business record is? -- If not, employees also probably don’t know that EBRs are now used widely as evidence in legal and regulatory investigations. And again, what they don’t know can hurt you.
  • Do they use personal mobile devices for talking, texting, web surfing, social networking, blogging or emailing during work hours? -- The answers are, most likely, ‘yes.’ But they give you a hard number to replace nebulous guesses. Once you know the current scope of employees’ social media use (by level, function and job type), you can start developing smarter guidelines for acceptable use.

Finally, make sure employees know that final survey results will be shared throughout the organisation, within a formal social media training program. This program is the culmination of your policy development efforts; let all stakeholders know the significant impact they’ve made just by answering a few simple questions.

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