Today, I was on a panel at The Big Social Conference 2018, on behalf of Manchester Metropolitan University:
The impact of social media in the workplace: creating healthy digital habits
Social media in business is no longer a novelty, it’s a necessary means of communication; to set tasks, promote company profile and build relationships. However, while it can certainly be an advantage to a company’s marketing efforts, social media use can also open the door to numerous risks when not diligently managed. Within this panel discussion our expert speakers will be discussing the pros and cons of social media for business and how to create a good social media policy in the workplace that will benefit your company and employees.
The questions we were asked to think about (based on suggestions I/other panellists made) were (and my thinking notes):
- How can social media be used for good by companies? And how can a company find a ‘tone of voice’ with multiple employees representing a brand? Social media is a space to build relationships, engage in conversation, and listen to what people want – both audience, and people who work for your company. Works best with those who agree with brand values – so be clear about brand values. Sit, meet, talk about what will work on social and what won’t, with input from those who will do it (either on behalf of the company, or wearing that ‘hat’ in their personal social media). Agree if particular types of items need senior sign-off, otherwise trust people to do it, having thought about ‘brand voice’ (as much as you would someone answering the telephone). Possible to use initials of users to give personality to particular staff: allow a bit of ‘natural’ personality if appropriate.
- Do you think the always connected, always on nature of social media has had a negative impact on people’s work-life balance/health? I would say this is about how WE use social media, but it does relate to the policies that companies enact. Needs flexibility because needs to work for particular companies/individuals, but ensure is space for downtime, and just because messages can be sent ‘NOW’ doesn’t mean a response will come now – space for holidays, illness, other tasks – but all about managing expectations (and role models from senior staff). I find it helpful to catch people quickly (takes pressure off any one person as often asking a wider group of people), find others in a similar situation, and often relieve something I’m worried about. Having been out of the office for the past academic year, having Slack (team-working tool) helps to keep connected and feeling part of a team as I start to move back to more ‘normal work’. We need to look at our habits/what works for us (as with diets, other people telling us what works often doesn’t work for us).
- Does the potential for trolling expose individuals to risk and should there be similar anti-harassment guidelines as are seen in more traditional customer/public-facing roles? Always see online as an extension of offline, although it might amplify something. It’s real, and therefore is covered by all kinds of legal procedures/expectations – needs help from social media platforms and regulation as well as policies. Note there can also be danger of conformity (filter bubbles).
- What can a company expect of people working for them re their social media activities – company/individual rights? If using specifically for work, consider if need separate accounts (bearing in mind social media company T&Cs). I, as a personal ‘brand’, and many in the church (who I work with a lot) tend to have a lot of overlap (bishops in particular are still regarded by traditional media as faces for a quote so have to think a little more). Remember that you wear the company hat at all times, and think about how you can be a good representative for your company – if you can’t speak positivity about it on social media you’re probably in the wrong job (and social media is not really the place to work that out). I was pulled up in early days as an academic tweeting about daft things some student said, and someone said ‘what happens if they see it’, so I don’t do that any more – we all have to learn – preferable to learn from conversation/conferences, but also just be prepared to apologise! Certainly don’t think they should have 100% access to your social media (any more than to e.g. your bedroom), but companies can be clear about what content they might have a right to … a lot of social media conversation is going from public to private, so important to know who is likely to see it … though I still try to think with ANY post ANYWHERE – are you happy for your kids, your parents, the newspaper (even 5 years down the line) and your worst enemy to see what you’ve posted.
Turn off email whilst on leave (or research days), and don’t use social media as a workaround to try and get hold of someone! Let them relax/focus!
- To sum up today’s discussion what would your top tip be for companies creating a good social media policy for its business and employees? CONSULT with those who are going to do it/use it, and include any unions in these decisions. Focus on what you CAN do with it, and emphasise what it is good for, rather than defaulting to a list of don’ts!
I’ve got a book chapter coming out in the Autumn, from which I share a short extract:
Challenges in the Workplace
The ubiquitous nature of digital has also raised new questions for both employers and employees, requiring a redrawing of boundaries. A 2015 survey highlighted that 87% of people check work email outside of work, and 50% check it on vacation; few countries have gone as far as France in 2016, which introduced a ‘right to disconnect’ law, enabling employees in larger companies to fully relax in their time off.  There is also the question of employees accessing the internet for personal reasons during work time. This could be either on their work machine, in which case the employer is entitled to monitor usage, or on personal mobile devices, either of which could have a profound effect on productivity, especially if someone is spending excessive time internet shopping or dealing with family issues. For any employees engaging in gambling or accessing pornography at work, there may be bigger questions that human resources departments need to deal with, including addiction and financial concerns. There are also questions as to the kind of content that employees are posting online, including publically expressing grievances. Companies need to develop responsive and flexible policies on the use of digital tools at work, and make these clear to employees. The use of social media could be banned altogether, but this fails to recognise that social media is a legitimate communication tool for some, or that work-life balance is important for staff morale, especially when staff are putting in hours over and above what they are paid for. ACAS suggests that it can be helpful to set guidelines on ‘reasonable use’, in consultation with any unions, to make expectations clear, and in a way that is seen as fair.
So far we have looked at questions that have a legal aspect, but there are also questions of etiquette, and one that concerns many is the use of laptops, tablets or mobile phones during face-to-face meetings. This is also a question that has occupied those within higher education. Taneja, Fiore and Fischer summarised how digital technologies have become ‘necessary to do the work at hand’ and that laptops have been ‘found to improve students’ attentiveness and engagement in class’, although it is also possible that this can lead to people undertaking off-topic tasks. In 2015, Lewis considered the use of computers within the classroom in an annual media-literacy training course:
In the early years of MediaLit, some delegates found the continuous presence of laptops within the classroom overwhelming, although the increasing use of mobile devices has made the ‘barrier’ laptop lids less problematic. Over time, the presence of technology has become more normative, although conversations continued to arise as to what technology was bringing to, or taking away from, the classroom experience. Taneja, Fiore & Fischer (2015) noted that students look to others within their group to understand ‘acceptable behaviour’. If social pressures to engage with material unrelated to the course are strong, students are more likely to ‘cyber-slack’.
A lot of educationalists and pastors have accepted that, if the content is engaging enough, people will engage. That engagement, however, may include looking up related content online, sharing material, or the digital equivalent of doodling. For those who don’t understand what others are doing, this can appear as disrespectful or distracting, leading to frustration. This may require conversation, being prepared to explain what one is engaging with, or not jumping to conclusions as to what others are doing. People learn and engage in a range of ways, sometimes in ways that can be seen as multitasking, of which we can define two types:
- Constructive: having Instant Messenger, music or search open, which contributes to something the user is working on;
- Distractive: watching TV on demand, videos, or playing games, which pulls users away from the current focus.
It is appropriate to have conversations about expectations for meetings, and, at times, to indicate that the content requires engagement without a digital presence, or reassurance that the meeting’s purpose is being respected by participants.
 Reaney, P. (2016). ‘U.S. Workers Spend 6.3 Hours A Day Checking Email: Survey’. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/check-work-email-hours-survey_us_55ddd168e4b0a40aa3ace672
 Ruiz, M. (2016). ‘The French Girl’s Guide to Not Checking Your Work Email’. Retrieved from:
 Citizens Advice Bureau. (2016). ‘Monitoring at work’. Retrieved from: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/rights-at-work/basic-rights-and-contracts/monitoring-at-work/
 ACAS. (2016). ‘Social media, discipline and grievances’. Retrieved from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3378
 ACAS. (2016). ‘Social media and managing performance’. Retrieved from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3376
 Taneja, A., Fiore, V. and Fischer, B. (2015). Cyber-slacking in the classroom: Potential for digital distraction in the new age. Computers and Education 82: 141–51.
 Lewis, B. (2015). ‘MediaLit: Engaging Faith and Media in a Digital Age’. Retrieved from:
 Lewis, B. (2014). Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst, p. 170.
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.