Employment Issues / Social Media

Social media risk and reward, at work (part II)


Previously I have looked at how social media is being used by organisations to promote their brand and how workplace policies can be designed to support corporate goals and values. This time, I look at how social media use can and should be monitored, moderated and managed by employers.

Without doubt, there is value in having an engaged workforce. Numerous studies have shown that happy employees will share positive experiences with their colleagues and peers. What better platform for this than social media. It can drive recruitment, build your brand and promote your business far and wide, but all too often it is the bad comments that rise to the top.

For employers, the difficult question is about how much employees should be encouraged – even instructed – to use social media at work. Fear of misuse, bad publicity or a damaged brand are the main reasons employers have for limiting social media use, some going so far as to ban it completely or not allowing employees to even mention the name of their employer. There can be good reasons for this, but they are few and limited. Such fears are typically experienced at the very top of an organisation by those who are unfamiliar with social media, how it works and the potential it has.

Of course, as we considered last time around, a sensible and practical policy or other guidance can actively reduce risk to a business. As Ellie Silson, UKI Social Media Manager for Sage put it, even those who are prevented from mentioning their employer on social media may still have their own accounts and “build their own personal brand”, sometimes in spite of the company and its message. Most organisations will value the network – professional or social – that their employees build. Therefore, by cutting out an important part of someone’s life, there is a real risk that the company will also miss out. At worst, an employee can work against an employer, such as was the issue in an early social media case involving Apple and an employee who was critical of some Apple products online. A robust policy and a simple message made it easier to justify a dismissal on such grounds, where brand was key.


When it comes to monitoring, there are some important legal principles to be followed, alongside relevant data protection and privacy laws. Social media is inherently a promotional tool used to give a public voice to individuals and organisations. It can also be a dangerous weapon used against you, so proportionate monitoring can be fair and justified.

With so many outlets and potentially hundreds or thousands of employees to monitor, finding a sensible and effective management solution can be difficult. Sage have adopted a ‘self-regulation’ approach. “It’s very hard and we are self-regulating” says Ellie Silson. “The only issues we seem to get are on dismissal, but don’t get many issues as we have happy staff. I’m on social media all the time so I see everything that gets put up and if there’s an issue I get HR and the lawyers involved.”

Active monitoring of social media can be outsourced, sometimes to PR companies or specialist service providers. For most businesses, however, a system of ‘self-regulation’ is in place. This might be in the form of one or more employees tasked with monitoring social media use – exclusively or as part of their wider role – or for employees to monitor and support each other and social media output generally.

But not every organisation is as pro-active in its monitoring of staff or alerting others to potential misconduct issues. Lewis Upton, Head of Business Affairs at MusicQubed sees a benefit in being a smaller, tight-knit business, but warns of risks too. “We haven’t had issues as we are a small b2b company and don’t have enough followers that that would be an issue. We have a blurring of lives, though. People were friends before they joined the company and so there is a seamless transition from work into the weekend, which is difficult to police but I think you need to take a common sense approach.”

Ensuring that everyone knows what is expected of them and treating people fairly is key to the implementation of any successful social media policy. Also important is responding quickly, yet proportionately, to any social media misconduct that may come to light.

Social media use is not limited to the public domain. Internal instant messaging is increasingly common, and personal use of tools such as WhatsApp and iMessage between employees is commonplace. Sometimes organisations can automatically monitor company operated platforms (eg. Yammer, Slack) but there are also many employees who use their personal accounts to engage with colleagues and customers, including Skype, Google Hangouts etc. It is, of course, much more difficult to monitor private accounts and such use will usually be discouraged. Typically, there will be little legal right for an employer to demand access to an employee’s personal correspondence or accounts and to do so is likely to be a breach of human rights legislation.


Recent research by Direct Line found that the average person in the UK checks their mobile device a staggering 253 times a day and 73 times during the working day. Another poll, by Think Money, found that a third of workers are distracted as much as three hours every day. Obviously, this will have an impact on any organisation, but will banning social media ever be enforceable, or help? If productivity is the issue, it can be managed in other ways. Performance problems – whether through laziness, cigarette breaks or gossiping in the kitchen – should each be addressed by performance management and not, for example, by stopping tea breaks. The same applies to social media and even more so: a ban on workplace IT systems will see an army of employees reach for their smartphones, if not in sight, in the privacy of the toilet cubicle. The outcome being that productivity doesn’t improve.

Social media gets blamed for a lot of problems in the workplace, but more often than not, social media is not the cause of the problem. It’s important that companies take time to figure out what the real issues are and deal with them, rather than taking away the tools that might otherwise facilitate good business practice and employee engagement.

To discuss how social media is managed in your organisation and how to deal with any related concerns, please get in touch.

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