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Letting employees use social media - opportunity or Pandora's box

This week I had an interesting conversation with a client. They know we, as a business, are active on social media and are seeing benefits.  My customer has been dabbling in the space for a while but is finding it too hard to keep up with the effort and is considering allowing their employees to also participate in helping with social media.  They asked me what is the right approach to take and after our discussion I realized it would make a good blog article.

Social media and the internet are vital to the health of a business.  It is equally as important as having a website. If a business is not active on social media, they cannot compete with competitors who are. Keeping up with and maintaining a good social media presence takes time, thought and energy.  That's when it becomes important to have a strategy in place that dictates what messages you are sending out to the world, how often you send the message and who will be the messenger.  In the case of my client, it was the boss, which may or may not be the right choice.  In many small businesses the boss is also the rainmaker or the key person and is very busy doing day to day transactions to keep the business alive.  But to me, social media is part of that.

That being said, a business needs to decide whether or not their employees can "play" in the social media world.  And Play is an important word here - because that is what can happen when you open the social media Pandora’s box to your staff.   Some social media sites are a time suck and can draw people into them for hours.  How do you balance it so that your staff is helping spread the marketing word without spending so much time on social media sites that it takes time away from their regular jobs.  Ah, this is the dilemma.

The timing of this discussion coincided with an article I just read this week.  The article said Research has shown, employees using social media at work cost U.S. businesses an average of $4,500 per employee per year. That's productivity costs.  Not knowing what survey was used to gather that information, I am skeptical.  Personally I think using social media periodically during the day, like a break is a good thing.  If you block social media sites, employees will find a way to get their updates via their phones or other means.  Which is better - allowing your employees to be social activists for your business or blocking them so they spend valuable time finding ways to trick the system.  This is what my client was experiencing.  Her company was blocking social media sites yet she found updates on a daily basis that were of a personal note.

As an employer, you cannot disallow employees from having personal social media accounts. You can put in place rules that govern what can or cannot be said on behalf of a business.  It's a very fine line. If an employee is happy at their job, they will speak well of an organization and become good marketing tools.  If they are unhappy, it's the opposite.  It really depends on the organization.  The smaller the company, the more important it is for you to have help in your social media marketing efforts.  It also means your budget is smaller so you probably cannot afford to hire a social media agency.  Your staff becomes your agency.  They know your business - or they should.  If you have shared the company vision, they know what is the right thing to say.  They too can keep a watch out for unhappy customers and head them off at the pass, so to speak.

Opportunity or dilemma.  Indeed.  If you choose to go down the path of opening the social media flood gates at your business, make sure you have a "rules of conduct" document for being on social media.  Set some time limits to how long an employee can or should be spending on social media a day.  Make sure they know you want their help, but you need them to do their jobs.  Make a decision on which social media sites are allowed and which are off limits.  Some are more time drains and bring the least impact to the business.

For example, Facebook is becoming more important to businesses but is really geared at the business to consumer space.  If your company is more business to business, you may be better off spending your energies and valuable staff social media time on Linkedin or Twitter.  Again, it really depends on your business model and organization structure. And on you, the boss.  How much do you trust your staff? Are they evangelists or antagonists?   The answer to that question should drive your decision for letting them play the social media game.

Patricia Egen Consulting, LLC

803 Creek Overlook, Chattanooga, TN 37415
Main office: 423-875-2652 • Arizona office: 480-788-7504 • Florida office: 754-300-2827