Making the Case for Social Media Education in the Workplace

By Alan Katzman, Founder of Social Assurity LLC

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Pew Research Center recently published a report on Social Media and the Workplace and its findings confirm a deep-seated misunderstanding of the crucial role social media can play in advancing the interests of all businesses.

Almost all social media analyses to date focus on the student demographic where uninformed misuse can create problems with college admissions, scholarships, and future employment opportunities. Yet, risks of misuse apply equally to social media users who are older but not necessarily any wiser than their younger counterparts.  What is missing from the overall discussion is how teaching workers about the proper and elevated use of social media can create opportunities for them and the organizations they represent.

Although social media provides businesses with unprecedented real-time access to and two-way communication with stakeholders around the globe it very much remains an underutilized asset. As with schools blindly focused on containing irresponsible teen social media use, effective social media policies for businesses must avoid an emphasis on restraint and instead promote productive social media use via effective education. Here are 3 core reasons why:

1.       Every worker is now an extension of the brand

Social media makes each worker a touch-point for the organization they represent. Their social media activities reflect upon their employer’s brand as much as they reflect upon themselves. There is no longer a fence separating personal and professional activities. We are all defined by the public social media persona that is created by what we choose to publish about our lives. That same persona then attaches itself to the groups and organizations we, as individuals, represent or are affiliated with.  When properly executed within a business environment, using the social media network of an engaged employee base will effectively extend brand messaging directly to their groups and communities in a consistent and reinforcing way.

With the potential to build a brand one employee at a time, it is incumbent for savvy employers to educate workers on the reach and discoverability of their social media activities. This elevated view will also empower workers to produce content that reflects upon their professional achievements, activities, interests and goals. An engaged and motivated workforce as demonstrated on social media will not only benefit the company but will also:

2.       Attract more talented employees to the organization

Millennials and other job seekers rely on social media to learn more about a company and its culture. A common misconception is that potential workers will only look at a company’s website or direct social media feeds. More and more, people are learning about a company by checking out worker profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media platforms. The extent to which these pages reflect an engaged and committed workforce speaks directly to the employment experience. Millennials are attracted to companies committed to community service, charity and other philanthropic initiatives. Teamwork and comradery demonstrate flat hierarchies and make that business a more compelling place to work.

Executives should be active on social media as well. Leadership demonstrated via social media sends a message of transparency and engagement. Online groups and communities can be formed on various networks to let stakeholders and other interested parties engage with businesses on very real terms. The concept of an ivory tower is outmoded. The world is communicating in an entirely new way. History shows us that whenever new modes of communication are introduced, change follows. Businesses that refuse to adopt will wither while those that understand the magnitude will prosper. Adopting to such a profound change in an accelerated way will not happen on its own because:

3.       Social media is a learned skill

Unfortunately, social media does not come with an instruction manual nor does use, in and of itself, make one digitally savvy.  The Pew findings show the current disconnect of social media at work. 

Employees are using social media at work mostly to engage in personal social activities (61%). This is the basic use of social media and, much like teenagers, adults need training to understand the higher purpose and professional potential of social media. 

Just as companies need to adopt effective sexual harassment policies and provide effective and repetitive employee training in support of those policies, the same can be said for social media. According to Pew:

“Policies that regulate how employees present themselves online outside of work may be expected to influence whether these workers use social media at all. However, this does not seem to be the case: Fully 77% of workers report using social media regardless of whether their employer has such policy in place.”

This disconnect demonstrates the lack of alignment of policy with the behaviors those policies seek to regulate. Adopting a comprehensive social media education program is necessary for management and workers to leverage social media for their mutual benefit. Understanding the basic tenets of social media and shifting the focus from the potential liabilities of misuse to the potential opportunities created by proper use is essential in today’s world. 

About the Author: A long-time business and legal entrepreneur with a background in technology and software, compliance, human resources and investigations, Alan Katzman has lectured extensively on the topic of social media education for students and published numerous pioneering articles on the topic. Alan currently serves as the CEO of Social Assurity.

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