The statistics speak for themselves: as of the end of last year there were 313 million Twitter users, 600 million monthly users on Instagram and 1,870 million active Facebook users.

Whilst there is no denying that social media is here to stay – should companies allow their employees to participate in social networking in the workplace? We look at both sides of the argument from an employer’s perspective.

Pros

  • Branding: Social media is very powerful when it comes to banding the organisation; promotion on social media costs very little, if active, your employees can essentially become brand ambassadors.
  • Internal Communications: The use of social media can encourage and ease communication within organisations and, if promoted, can initiate collaborative exchange of ideas irrespective of hierarchy.
  • Business Development: Employees can use their various social platforms to prospect and develop existing business relationships with comparable results to attending networking events.
  • Recruitment: Provided shortlisting and selection is not discriminatory, your Human Resources department can use social media as a research tool to gather information in order to hire new talent.

Cons

  • Loss in Productivity: Employees’ use of social media sites during working hours can result in a decrease in productivity. A recent study carried out by TeamLease World of Work found that approximately 32 per cent of the total time spent during working hours was of a personal nature.
  • Inappropriate Employee Conduct: If social media sites are used as a communication tool between employees there is a risk that such communications may cross the line and amount to harassment or discrimination. Cyber bullying is on the rise and employers have to deal with any allegations seriously in the same way that they would treat an allegation of bullying as if it had happened face-to-face.
  • Brand Reputation Risks: By allowing employees to associate themselves with their employer on social media sites there is a risk that defamatory comments made could bring the brand into disrepute.
  • Misuse of Confidential Information: The posting of confidential information by employees can have devastating consequences. Pricing structures being made public would assist competitors immensely; disclosing client information could end the relationship and posting personal employee information may result in resignations.

Depending on the industry, the pros can potentially outweigh the cons considerably. If this is the case then what can be done to minimise the risks involved?

  • Implement a social media policy so that employees are aware of what they can and cannot do;
  • Explicitly cover out of office behaviour in internal policies;
  • Provide training on social media policies and keep it up to date – it is not enough to simply introduce a policy for the employees to read and digest themselves;
  • Ensure employment contracts adequately protect confidential information; and
  • Treat any misuses in a manner consistent with the sanctions applied in other cases. 

This article originally appeared on page seven of the September 2017 edition of London Business Matters, the official magazine of the London Chamber of Commerce. The original version can be viewed here.