Social Media In The Workplace – The Debate Rageth On

It’s been a long time, gentle readers, since I came across something that deserves an award for its icky, sticky, company hippy nature, its inherent stupidity and intellectual laziness and its truly horrible smug and self-satisfied tone. But today is the day – it chills my very soul to introduce this, the Stop Blocking website and it disheartens me even further to link to this, a piece entitled ‘Demolishing Barclays Communications’ Blocking Argument Point-by-Point’.

Now, for this post to make sense to you, you’re going to have to do the clickety-dickety and read the article. You may wish to have a bucket and a towel handy while you do so and also to warn anyone in the immediate vicinity that your anguished howling is nothing to be alarmed about. Unless it goes on for longer than – say – thirty minutes, in which case it may be the onset of PTSD.

In brief, this is a continuation of the battle between two diametrically opposed viewpoints – that employees in the workplace should have no access to social networks during work hours whatsoever (which I do not believe to be a workable solution to the insidious eville of social) and that employees should be free to do what they want, when they want, simply girdled with a loose set of suggestions and guidelines. Which, as a solution to the problem of social media in a corporate context (and it is a problem, mark my words) is also a nasty pile of cattle droppings. In a nutshell, it’s the Corporate Nazi vs Company Hippy debate, which I have posted about before.

Thing is, the Company Hippy arguments for social media, used here, are the same ones that have been trotted out since social media began. And they didn’t make sense then, and they don’t make sense now. On top of that, here they are dusted with the icing of  ‘research’ and ‘example’ – and we all know how easy it is to find support for an argument. Any argument. (Don’t make me give you specifics.)

Here’s just a few idiocies:

  • Apparently, all workers, regardless of status or paygrade, put in extra hours and therefore compensate for any time that they may waste using social networks. Of course they do. In the same way that they all love the company that they work for, its senior management and its brands
  • Productivity suffers if employees can’t connect to social networks at work (thanks, University of Melbourne!). Apparently use of social media ‘resets an employee’s concentration’. How DID we manage to concentrate before?
  • Because the US Department of Defense has opened its networks to social media, does not mean that LargeCorp Industries LLC (in the business of profit, not homeland security) should – it’s not a question of risk from cyber-attack, it’s a question of perceived need and value. (In any case, I would ask whether the ‘private in the field in Afghanistan’ is free to change his status willy-nilly (‘Safe behind a wall’ to ‘In a ditch with blast concussion’) or to share any sort of geographic or temporal information)
  • Company ‘confidentiality can be violated anywhere, even an elevator’. True – but your average elevator holds 12 people and Facebook holds a potentially eavesdropping audience of 450 million. Go figure
  • ‘Many employees carry smartphones – or they can (access social media) from home after work’ – again, true. But what they do on their own time is their own business – unless it contravenes company policy on how they may represent themselves as employees, or the laws of the land – in which case they get fired. In the workplace – well, the clue is in the name – ‘work’place. Not ‘fun’place or ‘do-your-own-thing’place
  • ‘If normal use of bandwidth (this refers to employee use of social media) is slowing (your) network to a crawl, get more bandwidth.’ Just go to your finance guys and ask them to approve an increase in your budget, to purchase bandwidth to allow your employees to update their Facebook statii. That’s bound to work. Job done

All of this is hopelessly Utopian – the ideals of an imaginary world where everyone is nice, contented, loyal and trustworthy. Well, here’s the wake-up call. They’re not, and you need to bear that in mind when thinking about social media use in the workplace.

The solution, however (and it’s the one point on which I vaguely coincide with Stop Blocking) is not to shut down employee access to the internet. You see, it’s the internet that is (or can be) a useful corporate tool, it’s the internet which – as much as I still think this is a sucky argument – ‘resets concentration’ – not social media. Social media is wasteful and vainglorious. The internet is (partly) full of useful information, commentary and viewpoint.  Social media is full of weak-minded individuals who honestly believe that what they do and think is of interest to others (see Twitter).

How can you do it? Some companies have a couple of open-access machines in their public areas, for employees to use when they’re on breaks and time spent on these machines is (obviously) monitored by other employees – much like smokers on smoking breaks, internet users will be kept honest by their peers. Other companies make internet access a privilege, granted to those who’ve achieved – promotion, sales targets, whatever – although this is obviously a little elitist. Others allow internet access, but block social media sites – possibly the best of the options.

What is essential, however, is a good, solid, draconian Use of Social Media Policy and an internal communication plan to make sure that no-one can claim ignorance of it. Needless to say, this Policy should outline clearly how an employee may represent the company or brand online and in social media – what is acceptable and what is not – and, most importantly, make it clear that it applies 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Enforce it rigorously, because there’s nothing like a public hanging to make people understand that you are – and it is – serious.

4 thoughts on “Social Media In The Workplace – The Debate Rageth On

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