Give employees access to social media

A debate that continues to rage is whether employers should allow their employees to access social media at work. The topic has come up in a couple recent conversations so when I saw a tweet from IABC London with a link to Shel Holtz’s thoughts, I followed it with interest. Shel has written extensively on this topic and I encourage you to read what he has to say on this post or on his own website.

Here’s what I think

I have given this topic considerable thought myself. What follows is a revised version of my contribution to a LinkedIn discussion on the topic.

Social media is not the first time that the issue of personal/business time has come up in the work place. Social time has always been a part of the workplace. In fact, marketers have long strived to be the topic of conversation at the water cooler. These conversations are increasingly happening online. Both have the potential for helping or hindering an employee’s work and relationships. The question is not whether social time is appropriate but how when and where are these conversations appropriate and how much time can be devoted to them.

Social media is also not the first time technology has allowed workers to use their time and work resources in ways unrelated to their job. Everyone with a phone on their desk has used it to make and receive “personal” calls. Not long ago, the concern was Solitaire that came pre-loaded onto PCs and then with Internet access, employers became concerned about their staff’s ability to surf for extended periods unrelated to one’s job. The technology in itself is not the problem. The real concern is people who fail to use technology appropriately. I believe organiztions should trust their staff with social media and deal with abuse as needed–as they have done with previous technologies. We have successfully integrated new technology into the workplace before, we can do it again.

I also suggest that “social” is not the same as “personal.” Though social media is used for personal purposes, it’s also an extension of the networking that has always been encouraged by employers. Twitter has been my greatest source of professional development that I have accessed in years. I’ve learned much from my fellow communicators and social media experts. Yet, I initially used used my personal Twitter account to do so. It would be inappropriate for me to do so with my former employer’s Twitter account yet they benefited from my use of social media. Yes, I sent personal tweets alongside ones related to how I do my job but then again I talk to my co-workers about topics unrelated to work and will admit to having used e-mail for “personal purposes.” By its nature, its difficult to totally separate the personal and work uses of social media. LinkedIn, for example, attracted me because it offered opportunities for me to advance my career but at the same time, it’s proved extremely useful to my employer. For example, it was on the professional networking site that I learned of an online e-magazine tool (Issuu.com). By posting a question about e-magazines, I saved my organization thousands of dollars and allowed it to do more than our previous provider. Without access to LinkedIn, I would not have made this sort of discovery since my use of it from home would have been more limited and more targeted at finding new career opportunities. By allowing access, we both benefited. That’s a trade off I believe employers must be willing to make.

So I reject any suggestions about social media harming productivity.

Yes, there are legitimate IT issues such as band width and protection of servers/data that must be addressed. What needs to happen though is a balance between giving employees access while protecting the organization and its IT infrastructure. But we’ve done so before and we can figure it out again. We need to. Soon enough social media and the internet will be virtually indistinguishable–like it or not.

What do you think?