“Just as email accelerated the pace of business in the ’90s, enterprise social media will be the driver of greater agility and transformation in the 21st century workplace.” Kurt DelBene, president of Microsoft Office Division
We increasingly read today about the changing face of technology in the workplace.  We hear about Generation Y, Z and Z+1, and how organisations need to become more digital.  We hear about gamification, real time performance management and the use of social media.  There are a bewildering range of tools to choose from.  That is just for the employer!  Almost all employees have a mobile device enabling their own social networking, which they take into the workplace.  They will be in contact with their own networks anyway, wherever the employer is in the equation.  They may even be more advanced than the company they work for in the area.
Social media can be an excellent way for a business to engage with its stakeholders.  .  These include customers, prospects, employees, and the supply chain. It is possible to undertake market research, resolve customer complaints quickly, cross sell products and services and humanise the external face of the organisation. And unlike many other forms of marketing and communication, social media typically doesn’t involve a huge amount of cost.
That is the positive spin.  Social media also represents a serious potential threat to any organisation.  A reputation can be destroyed in an instant.  Take the example of Blackberry where a problem was made even more public by its annoyed users’ twittering and facebook comments.
Not to use social media is to give the advantage to your competitors.  Whether it is positive or negative – social media – Twitter, chat rooms, Facebook – is here to stay.  Companies cannot afford to ignore it.
So how are people and organisations really coping with these changes today? Change is never comfortable, and I am not sure they are really comfortable just yet.  Let’s look at some of the evidence:-
Employers are using social media to build engagement and communities but there are many types of social media out there, and employers still seem unsure of some of the benefits
The 2013 Towers Watson Change and Communications ROI survey
said that:-

  •  56% of the employers surveyed use various social media tools as part of their internal communication initiatives to build communities – sharing both the challenges and rewards of work.
  • But only 40% of those rated the use of social media technology as cost effective.
  • There was a lack of consensus as to which social media tools were most effective

Most interestingly, while 40% of employers surveyed claimed to be effective at building a shared experience with their employees, only half of those employers believe this works well for remote workers.
Do you think it is surprising with the level of working remotely (such as Capgemini Consultants on a client site!) that more employers do not think that using social media works well for remote workers?
Employers have had their fingers burned by employee behaviour – and there is a general lack of trust which stops the tools being freely available
Organisations are between a rock and a hard place.  On the one hand, to engage their staff and maintain their competitive edge, they need to give freedom to employees.  This allows gamification, community building and continuous learning to take place.  Yet at the same time employers still do not trust their employees to use social media sensibly – and may ban social media via the company firewalls – for example YouTube.
The employment law side is a minefield, with employees being dismissed for posting comments about their employers or colleagues – and also with employees being reinstated as a consequence of pressure caused – all via social media!.  For example in the HR Review for April 2014, the editor’s column says:-
In  recent years we have also seen Tribunals hold dismissals to be fair in cases involving a Wetherspoons manager who got into arguments with customers on Facebook and a Dixons employee who posted abusive comments about colleagues on Facebook. Other dismissals, such as the Argos employee sacked for mild criticism of the company on Facebook, have been found to be unfair.
Richard West, on the other hand, was ‘saved’ by social media. Having been dismissed after a pellet gun accidentally fired in his classroom, causing a pellet to hit a pupil, he was reinstated on appeal after over 4,500 people, including current and former pupils, signed a petition “Bring Back Westy – The Legend” on Facebook demanding the decision be overturned.” [1](HRReview)
According to a recent survey by Ortus Consultancy, disciplinary hearings are on the increase.  This is due to a number of factors, but a number of HR professionals feel that mis-use of social media is a contributor
Employers feel uncomfortable and do not trust their staff.  Employees need to know what the boundaries are.  Some sort of policy is needed.  To develop a culture that uses the technology well, any policy should not be too constraining
ACAS recommend the following elements (the link to the document also shows their useful short video on the subject):-[1]

  • “Network security: To avoid viruses, most organisations will have controls on the downloading of software. Technical security features, such as firewalls, will usually be managed by the IT department.
  • Acceptable behaviour and use of:

    • Internet and emails: If personal use is allowed, state the boundaries.
    • Smart phones and hand-held computers: Employers need to regularly review and update their policies to cover the new and evolving ways for accessing social media, and to reflect changing employee behaviour and attitudes about their use.
    • Social networking sites: Remind employees to regularly check the privacy settings on their social networking profiles, as they can change.

      Also, research has shown that the majority of employees would alter what they have written on their social networking profiles if they thought their employer could read them. To find out more, see Acas guide Social media, defamation, data protection and privacy.

      Further, an employer should cross-reference its social media policy to its bullying and harassment policy.

    • Blogging and tweeting: If an employee is representing the company online, set appropriate rules for what information they may disclose and the range of opinions they may express. Bring to their attention relevant legislation on copyright and public interest disclosure.
  • Data protection and monitoring: An employer should try to find alternatives to checking staff use of social media, if it can. It needs to justify the use of monitoring, showing that the benefits outweigh any possible adverse impact. An employer should consult with employee representatives or a recognised trade union.
  • Business objectives: As well as setting clear rules on behaviour, many employers are integrating the use of social media tools into their business strategy. Social networking can be used internally to encourage employee engagement with the organisation, and externally to help promote the organisation’s brand and reputation.
  • Disciplinary procedures: An employer should try to apply the same standards of conduct in online matters as it would in offline issues.

    To help an organisation respond reasonably, the employer should consider the nature of the comments made and their likely impact on the organisation. It would help if the employer gives examples of what might be classed as ‘defamation’ and the penalties it would impose. Further, the employer should be clear in outlining what is regarded as confidential in the organisation.

  • The organisation’s ‘intellectual property’: This is material which is the result of creativity in the organisation – for example, the company logo and brands, a song, copyrights, an invention, patents, designs etc.. The employer should clearly outline what constitutes its intellectual property”

In summary, this is a rapidly changing area.  Employers need to remain on top of developments and ensure that their employees understand how to be “digitally responsible” in their use of social media as employees..  This without being too heavy handed or interfering with employees’ privacy and personal lives.
From a practical viewpoint to the employer – an organisation who need to recruit “digitally savvy” people from leading edge organisations such as Google needs to think carefully.   Will that type of person be engaged with an organisation who is overly prescriptive about the use of daily digital tools?    Those who engage and work with their employees in using these tools are the ones who will be the most successful in future.
As a side issue to this blog, my own education level in this area has improved dramatically after my most recent project looking at digital and its impact on future HR.    Its a fascinating topic.    Do read more – there are a number of references in the document all obtained via “curation” of the internet – look it up!