Should employees express themselves on social networking site?

by Ashvini on July 12, 2010

in Management

Social networking is a very useful tool to be in touch with one’s family and friends. However, it can assume  a strong dimension, when used in corporate world. Information leaks, criticism and unfavorable opinions on a social networking site can have disastrous consequence for a company. The easy way out  obviously, is to warn employees about posting anything on the internet about the company. However ,such warnings are useless as opinions will reappear anonymously, making it more difficult to deal with them.

So should employees be barred from commenting on social networking sites?

The topic is a little complicated than a mere yes or no.Let us have a look into the various aspects of this problem.

Social networking is essential to an organization/company

In today’s world, no company can afford to be not on the web. A company that is in software business is usually evaluated by a customer on its web presence. How the company’s website is set up ? Is it aware of the internet trends? Is it active on twitter, FaceBook and thousand of other social networking sites ? Can it offer an enhanced web experience if it itself has a shoddy web site?

Hence it is very important for a company to be active on social networking website. It helps to show that it knows about the latest internet trends. But that brings us to another question.

Is being on internet social network a two edged sword?

Yes it is. By being on various networking sites, it has opened itself to attacks from previous employees, disgruntled workers and people with malicious intent. The image of a company can take a strong beating, if too many people speak on the issues that are unfavorable to the company. It can spell a lot of trouble.

The situation, though not helpful, should be treated as an opportunity.

A company that has been  transparent in its dealings with stakeholders such as employees, shareholders and customers will not be perturbed by bad opinions.

In fact, these kinds of situations provides a company to come  forward and showcase its policies and practices to the world. A mature response to the malicious post can boost the image of the company. It can explain its views and the reasons, it holds a particular position. By keeping the reasoning consistent, it can achieve fantastic public relations results.

However, some topics such as customer deals, sensitive employee matters and confidential information should not be discussed at all. Controlled dissemination of information, though  is very helpful.

What should be  done about  rants from existing employees on the internet?

If an employee is disgruntled with the company, he should be allowed to explain himself. Most of the times, the complaints are about small matters, probably ignored by the management. The management should try to sort out his/her grievance and also tell him not to express the opinions publicly. Most of the employees would talk favorably about a company that hears them out.

Its a saying, that matters of a family be resolved in the family itself.

An internal forum can be constituted , where employees can post their opinions

If employees do not find an internal forum to tell their grievances, the post them externally in the hope that someone would read them. An internal forum is the best way to redress this problem.

A forum internal or external is useless though , if the concerns of the employees are not resolved

Management should not only read the posts but also provide constructive feedback and solutions. People who post for the sake of posting should be barred. The debate should be civilized and professionally managed. If required, company’s management should get in touch with the employee.

A policy can be set up for social network posting

Employees should be allowed to seek support without fear of retribution. Anonymous postings should be allowed internally. The identity should only be disclosed based on agreement with the employee who made the post. All the cases of discontentment should be investigated. If there is a complaint against someone, action should be taken.

Employees should be encouraged to write on the internal forum, without fear. But contents that are racist, sexist and discriminative in nature, should not be allowed and person doing so should be warned.  Human resource groups can be set up to provide response to questions and queries. Finally, employees should be educated about the consequences of posting sensitive information on internet.

Warning: Senior management should understand that this involves becoming more transparent and answering questions that might be uncomfortable. It involves a number of organizational challenges.

So to summarize , following are the steps a company can take about postings on the internet:

  1. Bringing a problem solving mindset to the management
  2. Bringing out a policy about what can and cannot be said on social networking sites.
  3. Setting up an internal forum
  4. Setting up moderation and action committees to resolve issues posted in internal forum.
  5. Showcasing resolved cases without disclosing identity
  6. Educating employees about consequence of writing on social networking sites.
  7. Becoming more transparent in dealing with individuals and entities at all levels.

It is very easy to shoot an email to employees informing them of the consequence of speaking out on social networking sites but very difficult to implement measures that will actually change the way employees feel and think. It is not a small task to change the mindset.

Which way you will take if you were in the senior management?

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