I took part in the HBR chat last week for the first time. The subject was “Social Media and the Workplace”. HBR chat runs on Thursdays 7pm – 8pm Amsterdam time (CET) and the format is three questions are asked and anyone can chime in with their information or opinion via twitter using the #HBRchat.

The three questions asked were;

  • Q1: How much freedom should employees have to discuss work problems online?
  • Q2: Are you comfortable using social media to complain about work?
  • Q3: Does your company have a policy about employee conduct on social media?

I’ve storified the discussion if you want to read the actual tweets, although I’ve only pulled the ones that used the hashtag. But I wanted to explore the questions more than is possible in 140 characters.

How much freedom should employees have to discuss work problems online?

On the chat most people said yes, employees have the right to discuss work problems online. Given that the chat was on twitter the group may be biased – I have colleagues who do not believe you can discuss work online.

A couple of tweets commented that employees have the right, but there could be consequences. And one person commented that employees have the right, but it’s not smart.

Both of which I agree with, I’d also add that employees need to understand those consequences up front. It might seem obvious to me that there are limits on what I can say legally and that there may be better ways to address any complaints I know that not everyone gets that.

Speaking of consequences – Mashable published an article Sure Way to Get Fired yesterday.

Are you comfortable using social media to complain about work?

Most people said “no” to this one, including me. Which might seem in conflict with the previous answers, but we support rights in all sorts of areas without the need or intention to use them ourselves.

When I answered the question I was thinking that I generally have opportunities to solve issues at work – or complain to people who can have some influence. Complaining in social media seems an ineffective thing to do. I’ve thought about this more since Thursday’s chat, and I think if there was a serious issue going unresolved I might then, out of desperation, try using social media. But I’m struggling to imagine what sort of issue that might be.

Does your company have a policy about employee behaviour on social media?

The discussion around this question was interesting, some tweeters thought you should just trust your employees, others thought that you should be clear about the consequences should be. Often the difference in attitude is connected to where the person works; start-ups and small companies tend to favour the trust model, large companies – particularly those in highly regulated industries – tend to have written policies and some level of monitoring of social media in place.

We do have a policy about employee behaviour on social media, in creating it we tried to take an encouraging approach, but there are specific things that cannot be commented on publicly. Or as I summarised it in a tweet “Perspective = use SM, think before you comment on company. Never comment on customer.”

We’re also building an online training course on personal use of social media, to help all our colleagues understand how their personal social media presence might overlap with their professional activities – and potentially impact the company.

It was a fun thing to be part of and the hour flew by, I’ll join future #HBRchats if the topic interests me. The chat is so simple and works really well – it’s given me ideas for future events of our own.

2 thoughts on “Social Media and the Workplace

  1. Hi Louise,

    I’m very curious as to what kind of online social media training series you are building for your employees internally. Will you be sharing more about that in the near future?

    Much thanks,


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