Social Media in the Workplace – Advantages and Disadvantages
Social media has fundamentally changed the way we live our personal lives and in the workplace. Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and now Google Plus provide platforms with millions of members who can be reached in an instant. This article looks not just at the advantages and opportunities that social media offers employers and employees but also the disadvantages and risks that arise from having such powerful and instantaneous tools. Lastly, it looks at steps that employers can take to minimise the disadvantages and risks arising from the use of social media.
Social media provides a low cost method of reaching a vast global audience and it would be an oversight not to take advantage of it in relation to marketing and communicating with customers, business partners and other stakeholders. It is not the case that social media is only a social tool for children, Linked In is a social media tool directed at professionals and companies. Twitter is also frequently used to provide marketing updates and general communications. Blogs, which can be accessed via RSS feeds, are a more traditional (in social media terms) method of communicating updates and are widely used by professionals.
Internal Collaborative Working
There are many collaborative working tools available (accessible via company intra-nets) which use the same platform and have the same functionality as social media websites. Due to the widespread use of social media, most people are familiar with how such tools operate (e.g. work colleagues) if you upload a document. These collaborative working tools are usually web-based and are a user-friendly method for storing and sharing information.
Social media allows customers to quickly interact and easily provide feedback, compared to traditional methods. Previously, it was a time-consuming exercise for customers to provide feedback. Many businesses have embraced social media to assist with sales queries, after care assistance and support with the end result being an improved customer experience.
Below are a sample of some of the disadvantages and risks arising from using of social media.
Loss of Sensitive Information
Social media creates a risk of confidential data being leaked by employees. Product prototypes, price lists and other commercially sensitive information are at risk from inadvertent and malicious disclosure on social media sites or sites such as YouTube. It only takes seconds for photos and video clips to be uploaded on the YouTube with serious repercussions caused by the disclosure.
Negative Customer Feedback
No company has a 100 per cent customer satisfaction rate and often dissatisfied customers are quicker to share their views than satisfied customers. Social media presents dissatisfied customers with a huge audience and platform to air their views. If companies do not monitor this arena then they will not be able to deal with negative and potentially inaccurate or unfair reviews.
Bullying in the Workplace
Whilst social media can be of great benefit in terms of collaborative working, it can also be used to bully and harass other members of staff. It should be made clear to employees (e.g. in a social media policy) that conduct which harasses, bullies or threatens other colleagues is unacceptable via social media in the same way that it is unacceptable in an office environment.
Reputational Damage and Liability for Employee Actions
There have been a number of cases regarding the use of Twitter for malicious/menacing tweets. One recent example was the racist tweet about Mo Farah by a Northampton Saints rugby player. Unless the employer can show that the employee is off on a “frolic of his own” then there is the potential for a claim for defamation against the employer. In turn, if a post adversely impacts upon the employer, for example by bringing them into disrepute, an employer should consider if it warrants disciplinary action, including dismissal, against the employee.
Social Media – Best Practice
There are a number of steps that employers can take to best manage social media in the workplace
Build Social Media in to your Marketing
Social media should now be an integral part of a varied marketing/advertising campaign. Having a presence in social media not only shows that the company is progressive but provides low cost and immediate access to a large audience and helps increase the profile of the business.
Monitor and Managing Negative Feedback
Being proactive in responding to customers and also negative customer feedback on social media goes a long way in minimising any damaging impact. Whilst many companies may not be keen on airing their dirty linen in public, having a social media presence and allowing customers to provide feedback via social media shows transparency and that you listen to your customers. Companies should also pro-actively review other relevant review websites (e.g. TripAdvisor in the leisure and tourism industry). Sites, such as TripAdvisor, allow companies to respond to negative feedback or contact the reviewer directly.
Note: care should be taken not to “fake blog”, i.e. representing on blogs or review sites that you are a happy customer is an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
Put in place a Social Media Policy
A key concern for employers is the amount of working time wasted by employees using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, during working hours. Therefore, employers should have a clear policy in place around the use of social media in the workplace. It should set out which social media sites are acceptable and when they may be used. It should also clarify that using social media to discriminate against or harass other colleagues is strictly prohibited. It is not reasonable to dismiss an employee for misconduct if they did not understand (and could not reasonably be expected to understand) that what they were doing amounted to misconduct. Therefore, the social media policy should be clear about what is and is not acceptable behaviour. Given the potential for an employee’s private post to negatively impact on their employer’s reputation it is a good idea to draft a social media policy widely so as to cover any posts made by employees away from the workplace.
Finally, if it becomes apparent that an employee has posted an offensive comment online, take prompt action to deal with the situation, e.g. getting the post taken down. Similarly, if a company uses message boards and allows user generated content then the company should react quickly (particularly if requested to do so) and remove any offensive or defamatory statements (a website/acceptable use policy should permit the employer to have complete control to take down any content on its website).
Marriott Harrison LLP
For more guidance on defamation, social media in the workplace including social media policies, IT, communications or website/acceptable use policies, please contact Aonghus Martin on 020 7209 2017 or by email at