Social Media and the Workplace

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.

Twitter Olympics

When Danny Boyle included social media in the opening ceremony did he couldn’t have known that the downside of social media would be thrown into the spotlight by the athletes.

First, before the games had started, Voula Papachristou who was due to compete in the triple jump tweeted

“With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!”.

She was promptly banned from the Olympics – before she’d even left home.

Then yesterday a young soccer/football player Michel Morganella of Switzerland posted a tweet after the Swiss team lost to South Korea that according to the Daily Mail

The star posted the message shortly after the game, saying that South Koreans ‘can go burn’ and referred to them as a ‘bunch of mongoloids.’

The twitter account has since been deleted and Morganella has been banned and sent home, he won’t be helping his team in the upcoming games Athletes competing at the Olympic know that they’re being watched, they know that twitter is public, and that they attract large number of followers because of their role in sport.

The IOC has set out guidelines for acceptable social media behaviour by the athletes. Unfortunately the supporters have not signed up to a code of conduct. Morganella claims his tweet was in response to various tweets directed to his account after the Swiss loss.

Another supporter tweeted to Tom Daley’s account. Tom Daley is competing at his second Olympics and in the synchronised diving event yesterday he and his dive partner came forth following a mostly great performance. Unfortunately for the pair the standard is so high that one “off” dive puts you out of medal contention. It was a big disappointment for them, and the supporters of Team GB. One of whom tweeted his disappointment earning him a RT from TomDaley1994

After giving it my all…you get idiot’s sending me this…RT @Rileyy_69: @TomDaley1994 you let your dad down i hope you know that

His 770,000 followers took up his cause creating a #GetRileyy_69Banned hashtag. The Rileyy_69 account has tweeted more than one apology, and declared that they’re “actually a really a nice person”. That may well be true, but the twitter account is full of abuse, racist comments and swear words masquerading as banter so I’m doubting.

It’s a bit of a storm in a teacup, and I hope it doesn’t detract from Tom Daley’s training.

But all of this is a good reminder about using social media guidelines. A set of well constructed guidelines should;

  1. encourage people to use social media
  2. help people understand what behaviour and comments are acceptable
  3. specify what behaviour is not acceptable (even under provocation)
  4. specify consequences for unacceptable behaviour

Most people representing your company will want to do the right thing, but there will be occasions where it goes wrong – perhaps as a simple mistake or a thoughtless comment made in frustration rather than maliciousness. But all cases require action.

The biggest thing to remember is that anything put on social media is permanent and public.

(Image from mashable)