When handled properly, social media in the workplace can benefit staff and employers. Unfortunately, it also presents a wonderful opportunity for crooks, says Alan Calder.
Social media, by its very nature, is designed to be as inclusive as possible. But when you open your doors to everybody, you are also making information — possibly sensitive information — available to everyone. You are not only inviting your friends inside; you are clearing a path for your enemies.
For many organisations, an instinctive reaction to these aspects of social media is to pull up the drawbridge. But the truth is that a siege mentality is doomed to failure.
You cannot realistically hope to isolate staff from the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter — or at the very least, you cannot hope to do so without risking damage to employee morale. They do, after all, have private lives.
Avoid extreme measures
The threats that social-media services present to an organisation are not going to fade away. Then again, neither are the opportunities. The key is to maximise the benefits of social media while minimising the risks. So, as is so often the case in business, extremes tend not to be effective.
If you simply ban, block or limit your staff from accessing social networks during work hours, there is a chance that a demoralised workforce will become even less productive than when they were wasting a little invigorating time each day on Facebook.
Certain staff might even choose to devote their attentions to finding ways to beat the ban. They are certainly going to be forthright about their employer when tapping away on Facebook at home in the evening.
Understanding human nature is essential to understanding the risks of social media. With so many people now accustomed to web 2.0 being part of their lives, trying to stop the tide of social networking from entering the workplace may well prove to be an impossible task.
You need to ensure that social media becomes integrated into your company's overall public relations, marketing and positioning strategy. From a positive point of view, after all, you are being presented with a rapid and open line of two-way communication with your partners, stakeholders, customers and potential customers around the world.
How can members of your team harness the opportunities to present themselves and your company's products and services in the best possible light? Rather than fear negative comments in blogs, ask yourself how rapidly your organisation can improve by responding to those criticisms.
How many customers can you meet through LinkedIn? For many companies, social media is already a critical part of the business that, when properly utilised, represents a marketing revolution.
Unsurprisingly, there is no such thing as the universal social-media strategy, appropriate to every organisation. There are many principles that can be adapted to almost any company's needs, however.
As with so many business processes, your company's first strategic social-media discussion must be to identify your objectives. From there, you can work to...