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Controlling Social Media a.k.a Pushing a Stone Uphill

As the multitude of the many social media platforms takes a permanent hold in our culture, they have moved from being mere hobbies or distractions to essential tools we all use in our everyday lives. Just think of the impact that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram et al have had on our lives. While it is true, many of these platforms have started out and gained fame through their personal application, many social media platforms have become such a part of our daily lives that the line between personal and business often becomes blurred. Checking Facebook or Twitter at work has replaced the “personal call” to home – you know, in the days before the internet and social media! The response to the growth and utilization of social media in the workplace, by businesses, has been a little backwards thinking so say the least.

For many organizations, all these platforms are still relatively new. For companies that haven’t evolved and embraced these applications, they are seen as time wasters and distractions. So much so, that they need to be controlled. Hence, the advent of the very “Avant guard” social media policy. Now, I have seen the whole gamut of these policies. Everything from a very general description of acceptable use and proper organizational representation (which makes sense) to a clear outline of what you can and can’t do and when/where you can and can’t do it (which doesn’t make sense.) My favourite social media policies are the ones that basically attempt to control any and all usage of these platforms. They basically identify them as some sort of plague that is to be avoided at all costs due to the detriment it would cause to the organization. Typically, companies that have these “thou shalt not” social media policies also back them up with rigorous web surfing reports that identify abusers, slackers and miscreants that need to be dealt with under some draconian discipline policy.

Pushing Rock UphillMy point is this, trying to control, limit or even eliminate social media use in your workplace is a futile exercise. At the end of the day, why would you want to? Employees use social media for so many positive aspects in the workplace – and it isn’t just with your technologies. Smart phones and Wi-Fi enabled tablets make it easier than ever for employees to stay connected. The overall use of social media is a way for them to professionally network, learn from industry peers, gain knowledge that will benefit the organization, research, connect, enhance their professional development, market and brand the company and feel connected with their profession.

I have seen and heard of many cases of LinkedIn and Twitter being used to informally mentor. That is, the “old days” of information sharing (senior folks deciding if/when they would trundle over to the young folks and share some nuggets of information) are going away. Information is out there and people want to be at the leading edge of their industry and profession. Much like open source coding brought a new wave of development ideas to the I.T. industry, industry knowledge is “out there” and people want to share and grow – there are no more organizational or geographic boundaries when it comes to the sharing of information. Those that are “social” on social media – by sharing, helping and providing, find that this act is reciprocated tenfold when they have an ‘ask.’ The gains that professionals are realizing from time spent using social media are really only just the tip of the iceberg as social media usage becomes simply part of the way companies will do business going forward.

Ultimately, for an organization, this limitless ability for your employees to grow, learn and obtain information is FREE. Yes, free – for those that don’t implement a police state as it pertains to the internet and social media. I have heard all the counter arguments to this too – if unchecked or unmonitored people will slack off, they won’t do their work, they will waste time. I would suggest that if this is the concern or even the reality, you don’t have a social media problem; you have a management/leadership problem. Remember, if you are setting proper goals and objectives with your employees and effectively communicating and coaching, than social media is simply used as tools to do the job – not as a distraction. If results aren’t being achieved, you have a productivity issue, not a social media issue – keep that in mind as you begin to craft your first “Social Media Policy” – and I wish you good luck in pushing that stone uphill. As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of Vlado/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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