Social Media @Work

understanding social media at work

Social Media @Work

Social media is no longer this new, pretty thing that we admire from afar.  It is now mainstream.  Throw your excuses, attitudes, and preconceived notions to the side.  Social media is not going anywhere.  Social media is a part of our every day lives even at work. Last week I debated with an attorney on the topic of Social Media @Work.  We talked as professors, human resources and marketing students, and others watched us duke it out.  I called upon my social media community to help demonstrate the power of social media.  An eclectic community of human resource professionals, students, business folks, and others responded with almost 300 tweets using the #smwork hash tag. I feel for attorneys I really do.  Employment attorneys especially.  They are driven by fear.  Fear for their clients, fear for themselves, and a lack of understanding into the every day use of social media and what it has become.  They see the ugly side of social media.

  • An attorney’s view is not always reality. When discussing the topic of how to properly train and alert an employee to a company’s social media policy, there is no silver bullet.  Your attorney is there to advise you on the topic but not actually help you execute a full-scale information and awareness campaign.  My fellow debater suggested that company awareness should be more than an email from HR and a signed acknowledgment.  I agree, however, the role is not solely human resource’s responsibility.  It’s a team effort that goes beyond the human resource office.  One #smchat participant, Dave Ryan (frequent guest blogger at Blogging4Jobs) suggested that we prepare for social media at work much like we do for a tornado.

  • Social Media is more than Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Companies and attorneys need to realize that social media is a million different mediums.  Sites like Glassdoor and JobVent are common communities for disgruntled job seekers and employees.  Don’t forget blogs, YouTube, and chat rooms too.
  • Social profiles aren’t private. This is an area that is currently being debated in the courts system.  Current court cases are requesting access to employee’s social profiles and private messages even your Google Search history.  The precedent changes daily.  This is like asking an employee for copies of their snail mail for the last twelve months.  Imagine if someone requested access to your Google Search history, your most private secrets for the purposes of an employment law case.  Do the rights to privacy not apply?

  • It’s all about Mobile. Most recent data tells us that 91% of persons who access the internet from their smart phone socialize.  A personal mobile phone is a powerful computer that is unmonitored or undetected by corporate firewalls and IT.  While this scares attorneys as well as corporate executives, I’m not so sure.  A recent Ad Age study tells us that 48% of workers who use social media would strong recommend their company’s product or service.  Good companies who treat there employees well are rewarded.  Those that don’t should be fearful of the online consequences.

  • Unproductive people are unproductive with or without social media. One of the biggest misconceptions is that social media is extremely unproductive.  In general social media used for business purposes can help you do your job better in so many ways.  It allows for collaboration, access to a network of industry professionals, and trending news and topics.  For example, the #smwork chat allowed for sharing of tools, news, and resources.  One of those resources shared was from Mark Vanbaale about a recent article in the WSJ “Employers Thread a Minefield.”  I challenge the notion about unproductivity as a result of Facebook.  Companies should look at other non-productive activities.  The average unproductive work time spent on Facebook each day is 7.2 minutes vs. smoking which is 64 minutes.

  • Social Media as everyday use. With Facebook approaching 600 million users and Twitter users posting 110 million tweets per day, social media is a part of our every days lives.  So it makes sense that things that are part of our every day lives would trickle into our work life especially since we spend more time at work during a week than we do with our family.  Social media is another tool that businesses and the workforce can utilize to their advantage.  But fear is what drives most corporate executives when it comes to social media use.  Fear that employees will say how they really feel about their organization publicly online or fear that they will post confidential information on the internet.

Truth is those fears have been around since the beginning of business.  Until the internet was created, employees used public bulletin boards, town hall meetings, letters to the editor and the grapevine to air their personal and professional opinions.  The key for understanding social media @work is really simple.  It’s by following the old age concept the Golden Rule.   Companies should act and treat their employees with ethics demonstrating trust while trusting their employees to do the same. Trust, ethics, and real relationships.  That’s the foundation of Social Media @Work.

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Dennis Edmondson Jr says

    I agree with everything you said, but I have to add a caveat. Not everyone that uses Social Networking at work is interested in doing so to further their professional standing in the Social Networking World. A large percentage of people that use Facebook just want to play Farmville or bash the fans of a rival basketball team. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with allowing access to Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, or any of the other sites out there, but you should make some distinction between those users that are out there for professional reasons (for good or ill) and those that are just goofing off (where no good can come).

    Dennis Edmondson Jr
    Computing Concepts LLC

  2. Jessica Miller-Merrell says

    Thanks for the comment, Dennis. My thought is this, why can’t I mess around on Facebook for 20 minutes at work if I don’t take a smoke break? If the average person is smoking and spending 64 minutes a day doing that, I have a right to take my Facebook break and be unproductive.


    • Brett says

      This completely takes me back to part-time work during high school. Working at a department store (where the owner was a smoker ;> ), co-workers who smoked could hang out, smoke, and chat for 5 or so many minutes. However, if you were standing around “doing nothing” you were chastised!

      In university I then learned (via a Organizational Behaviour class), to focus on the *output* of employees. Time on Facebook, Twitter, etc. doesn’t mean they are terrible employees — lack of output does. We all know very ‘busy’ workers that don’t accomplish half what others do.

      Good stuff again Jessica!

  3. Dennis Edmondson Jr says

    It’s not about rights or what’s fair. People that are only putting in 87% of a full day are not going to be as productive as someone that puts in 100% and that should show up during review time. If a smoker wants to take an hour out of each day to kill themselves slowly and painfully that shouldn’t effect how productive you are at work. You’re at work to work, if all you’re doing is looking for the next chance to take a break, then your value to the company is virtually zero. Seems to me that what we should be doing is trying to build our value to our employers and letting the slackers (or in this case smokers) weed themselves out by winning the business world’s version of the Darwin Award.

    Dennis Edmondson Jr

  4. Sandra D says

    Dennis just because someone isnt at their desk 100% of the time doesnt mean that they are not productive. I truly feel that it is old school to think that because you get into work before coworkers and leave after coworkers that you are a better employee. That just shows me that it takes that person longer to get their work done. Now of course that doesnt mean that there are people who dont take advantange but usually if someone is coming in later than other employees it may be looked upon as that person not working hard enough. At the end of the day if a persons work is done it shouldnt matter if they take a 1hr smoke break or spend 25 mins on Facebook.

    • Brett says

      I would agree with this Sandra.

      Xerox (and now Google) supports “thinking” time that suggests it’s best to have people take “doing-doing-doing” breaks to think strategically about what’s going on.

      For more ‘leisurely’ pursuits like social media, I read once that even the best of the best can only be creative and or productive for 3 – 4 hours a day. Doesn’t mean they can’t work 8 hours a day, but the mind needs to shift from different types of work that require different mentalities.

      Just like we can’t expect a delivery truck to be on the road 100% of the time, always moving, making it to the next stop, similarly with people we need to recognize that productive comes from a variety of things.

      • Jessica Miller-Merrell says


        The average employee is already spending 3 hours of unproductive time completely unstructured. Why not put some structure around the unproductivity? Meaning if there was a means to an end or a goal associated with using social media or for personal or professional development, it would be seen as a benefit.

        thanks for the comment.


        • Brett says

          Thanks for this Jessica — it made me realize I’d never thought of working *with* unproductive time (as opposed to trying to ‘fix’ it). Never considered structuring unproductivity to change it into a benefit.



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