A Balancing Act: How to Manage Social Media in the Workplace

The push and pull of social media monitoring is a difficult one to manage. As an HR manager, your relationship with an employee or a prospective employee’s social media profile must have the right amount of intimacy and distance. But how do you find the balance between being a laid back, carefree manager and an overbearing social media monitor?

Inhabiting that middle ground between social media stalker and stranger will help to make the HR-employee relationship a smooth one. However, efforts to move there start before someone becomes your employee.

The Facebook Stalker

Between Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and countless other channels, it’s possible to find someone’s entire life story on the internet—even pieces they might not want to share. Jobvite’s 2014 Social Recruiting Survey found that 93% of hiring managers will review a candidate’s social media profile before making a hiring decision. Going through a person’s social media is as intimate as going through their medicine cabinet, and that means there needs to be some sort of boundaries. Still, social media searches are important for informing any hiring manager’s decision—you want to know if your prospective candidate spends his nights posting sexist rants on Twitter before you extend an offer.

Ethan Wall, author and founder of the social media law firm Social Media Law & Order, suggests delegating social media searching to someone other than the hiring manager. “You separate the person who is doing the search from the person who is making the hiring decision,” Wall said. Have someone besides the hiring manager review social media profiles. This way, the social media searcher can alert the manager to any inappropriate posts, and a level of bias in the recruiting process is removed. Split the balancing act between two people instead of leaving one person to juggle being completely enveloped in the profile and totally unbiased at the same time. 

What goes in a social media report on a candidate and what is left out is a matter of company policy, and one that always adheres to the discrimination laws outlined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Train your hiring personnel on what the laws are, what to search or what should not be in the report,” Wall said. There is no point to having a separate searcher if he or she doesn’t know what to leave out of the report.

The report system also guarantees a fair search process for everyone. “You have to be consistent,” Wall said. “You can’t search old people but not young, you can’t search women but not men.” Separate searchers and a consistent policy guarantee just the right amount of HR involvement in a prospective hire’s internet life.

Of course, there’s opportunity for crossing the line into too much social media snooping. During the hiring process, asking for a candidate’s password certainly crosses the line. Requiring a candidate’s username and password—which is illegal in ten states—could have consequences other than fines.

During the interview process, a candidate develops an image of what working at your company will feel like. Any information about what kind of a manager you are is gold to them. So, what impression will be built if before being hired the person is required to hand over all their personal details?

“Sometimes it’s about weighing the legal risks against the practical reward,” Wall said. “If I had a boss that signed a contract that said he could walk into my home, open my drawers, and look at whatever he wants, I’d say no.” A request like that would leave the candidate with an image of a hostile workplace where the manager has no trust in his employees. This level of invasion of privacy could easily turn an employee off of your company. To be on the safe side, leave the password alone.


Beware the Ban

Once hired, good social media management for your employees will lead to a positive reputation of your company’s work style. The last thing you want is job seekers thinking your office has a hostile environment. The key to a balanced social media culture is a balanced policy.

Balance means saying no to bans. Completely cutting off employees from Facebook or Twitter leads to hostility. “If you say ‘no this’ and ‘no this,’” NYU Stern professor David Purdy said, “you’re going to find an organization that tells everyone what they should do and eventually employees are going to disengage.” An environment where people feel they don’t have any freedom is not one where people will be motivated and productive.

In fact, Facebook and other social media outlets can make your employees more productive. 46% of people surveyed online by PEW Research feel more productive because of internet, email, and cell phones. “People need to waste time,” Purdy said. “Whether they’re on Instagram looking at pictures of their cats or on Pinterest, the point is that people need to breathe.” A quick break from long hours of brain power will revitalize an employee.

Social Communication

And the benefits of social media keep coming. With an internal social media news feed, you can bust the doors of communication wide open. Scott Heydt, CFO of VaynerMedia, can’t stop raving about how an in-office news feed can engage employees, plus keep a culture constantly communicating. “It gives me full view of everything that’s happening in the company,” Heydt said. “That sits on my desk all day long and it’s taken over as a place for employees to collaborate and connect.”  

In-office social media allows employees to talk through issues together while simultaneously sending concerns up the ranks to higher managers. But, if your company has poor communication already, these platforms won’t automatically fix it. Employees must feel encouraged and safe while speaking their minds or they will stay quiet.

A quiet workforce makes for bad work—and bad leadership. “Leadership is a conversation,” Purdy said. “Even the Pope is listening to the flock now.” A back and forth between employees and managers will make the office more comfortable, the company goals clearer, and your end products better.


Tell Them Like It Is

Social media obviously has its benefits, but it also has some risk. To keep social media from taking over the office, it’s necessary to be hands-on in certain places. Drafting and implementing a social media policy is an easy way to stay on top of the workforce’s social media use—and research shows policies could be more common. A report by Protiviti in 2013 found that only 57% of employees surveyed received a social media policy.

The first step in having an effective social media policy is the drafting stage. It can be easy: All you have to do is follow your ABCs. “A is accuracy, B is brevity, and C is clarity,” Wall said.

An accurate policy is all about compliance. “You’ve got to make sure that your policies are reviewed by someone who knows social media and the law to make sure they comply with federal labor laws,” Wall said.

The National Labor Relations Act protects the employee’s right to participate in “concerted activity.” This means they are allowed to discuss things like unsafe conditions at work or unfair pay—and you can’t ban those comments from social media.

"A is accuracy, B is brevity, and C is clarity."

Ethan Wall, author and founder of the social media law firm Social Media Law & Order, on crafting an effective social media policy.

B is for brevity, as in keep it simple. “Meaning use plain English,” Wall said. “Don’t use fancy legalese terms, because not everyone will understand it and they’re not going to follow the policy.” If your policy can be understood by an eighth grader, your employees are guaranteed to get it, and misunderstandings leading to social media crises will be avoided.

The last item on your checklist is clarity. Use plenty of specific examples throughout the document to make the rules as clear as possible. “If you have a policy that says you can’t make negative comments about the company, that might be a problem because it’s too broad,” Wall said. But, specify what those negative comments are—racism, sexual harassment, or other harmful statements—and the confusion disappears.

The same way communication strengthens your business, it is the key to a successful social media policy. Consulting with your employees while drafting the policy will make it better suited for your specific workforce and built to avoid backlash. Employees will let you know what rules will bog them down and which will make for a cooperative workplace. Plus, it will help foster a workforce that feels valued and included.

Furthermore, to be completely sure everyone is on the same page with social media, offer trainings for employees that outline the do’s and don’ts of online behavior—especially the don’ts. Wall runs trainings such as these. “There is no privacy on social media,” he said. His presentations begin with an abundance of employee slip-ups to show his trainees what to avoid.

Social media is a risky tool that, if managed with the right attitude, can be one of HR’s biggest assets. A quick scroll through Instagram will revitalize an employee, and an online conversation between employees and managers will foster a trusting community. Add a training, and online slip-ups become a thing of the past. Social media can help bring out the best in a workforce, and it can be easy. Just let them be social.

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