Save “face” Now : Why You Should Let Your Employees Use Social Media At Work

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If you are like me, you are probably a bit overwhelmed with the seemingly nonstop talk about Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other social media tools.

There is little question that these social media tools are here. Like other new mass-accepted phenomena, they are probably a little over-touted, but few would argue against the power of the social connection they bring. 

I recognized a threshold was reached when I learned about using the 140-character Twitter to write recipes. (Having said that, the broiled asparagus was quick and delicious.) Social media is quite simply a change, and change itself brings with it fear of the unknown.

Last August, it was reported that the U.S. Marines have banned all social media sites due to security risks. Yet even a security-focused organization such as the American military seems to have contradicted itself — the U.S. Army had recently ordered all military bases to provide access to Facebook. Why such an apparent contradiction? I believe that it is because the marines fear it from a security standpoint, while the army respects the power and following of Facebook. The army likely believes that recruitment and retention would be adversely affected by banning Facebook. 

I think the lesson to be learned at the U.S. military’s expense is for you to “be all that you can be” and consider allowing Facebook in your office for staff use. In order to do this properly, you will need to do the upfront legwork to ensure that policies are properly in place so that staff understand what is and is not an acceptable use of this tool. In other words, get it in your books.

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Even the marines are hedging their bets a bit by saying that they will issue waivers to the blockage if a “mission-critical need” can be proven. You may not be tasked with defending home or foreign soil, but I think that staff satisfaction and retention may be a mission-critical need for your organization if you want to be successful in the future. 

Back in October, the Globe and Mail reported that “nearly 83 per cent of 270 Canadian chief information officers said their companies do not allow employees to visit social networking sites.” Assuming that these numbers are still true, this provides you with the opportunity to be a pioneer by allowing this medium that is so prevalent with the majority of younger workers. It is ignorant for these CIOs to think that by banning it, they will be able to keep the power and risks (both positive and negative) of Facebook away from their organization. I think that enabling your staff to access Facebook at work will allow you to reap the benefits and avoid the pitfalls the tool brings. 

Somehow these aforementioned CIOs must feel that by banning it, they remove themselves from risk. Isn’t that the same as David Hasselhoff banning hamburgers and YouTube from his home? It isn’t going to stop that video from being watched!

Sticking your head in the sand doesn’t work for ostriches (despite what cartoons led me to think all these years), so why should you use that style to manage your team?  

Below I introduce some items to consider before banning (or ignoring) a tool that your staff will probably access via their smart phones during their workday anyhow.

Control staff information

Of course, you cannot control what staff put on Facebook, but by acknowledging and allowing the tool and by providing acceptable use guidelines,you can educate staff on what is acceptable and what isn’t. I believe that people are pretty fair, and if you are progressive enough to allow them access to the tool, I think most will see it as fair reciprocation to not share information that risks the security or confidentiality of your organization. 

Some staff may even enhance your organization’s reputation by communicating the good things you are doing. This is easier done when they have access to a broadcasting-type tool such as Facebook. Treat your staff well, give them access to the tool to tell the world about it, and you will reap the benefits.

The reverse of this is much more dangerous. Uninformed staff can share high-risk information with enormous speed and reach by posting something you don’t want the world to see. For example, think about the dangers of staff talking about layoffs before they are properly communicated. Or if you are a public organization, think about how a small amount of insider information can affect your stock price. 

Allowing access to Facebook provides an opportunity to work and communicate with your staff on what is and is not appropriate information. This may help prevent (via Facebook and other means) unwanted news that could travel faster than the message on that old Faberge commercial “….and they told two friends, and so on, and so on….” (If you have not also banned YouTube, take a trip down memory lane by searching “Faberge Shampoo.”) 

Security risks

If, like the U.S. Marines, you are worried about security rather than just blocking Facebook, perhaps it is time to audit your security policies and firewalls. There is no question that there are viruses and malware on Facebook, but they are also on many other websites. Blocking social media sites is just procrastinating (“ostrich management” again). Make it an opportunity to see how vulnerable you really are.  

Work with your staff to create acceptable use policies.

Probably the biggest reason so many employers argue against Facebook is that staff should be working while at work, not chatting on social media sites. This is, of course, more than true, but blocking access to sites is not going to make unmotivated staff suddenly highly interested in their jobs. As a matter of fact, blocking can be a demotivator and make them even less productive. 

The answer is to come up with acceptable use policies so they know what is expected of them. If you are around my age (which means that you enjoyed a pint or two at the Beaver in the basement of the Empress), remember that recent arguments about staff wasting their time on Facebook are similar to arguments against Internet access being made available to staff about 10 years ago.

Can you imagine preventing Internet access to your team today and thinking that makes them more productive? The same old argument was made regarding the computer games Minesweeper and Solitaire 15 years ago and, perhaps, the telephone 50 years back and the water cooler before that! Staff wasting time on Facebook is more of a management issue than a technology one.

If you are looking for one final argument for enabling Facebook, perhaps you can take a slight twist on the advice from Michael Corleone in The Godfather, and decide that when it comes to Facebook, “it is personal and it is business.”