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Social Media Can Wreck Your Career

It can also cripple your company if employees abuse it

(page 2 of 2)

Eliminate guesswork

Many companies have responded to the increasing use of social media in the workplace by blocking access to it all together, but that is draconian, Darling says, especially since people can easily connect to social media from their mobile phones.

Darling says companies would be more effective if they created a fair social-media policy that's enforceable and then enforced it. But the old command-and-control model won't work, she says.

Lind, who was fired 10 years ago, when social-media policies didn't exist, says he would have followed the rules if there had been any, emphasizing that "a clear policy that gives employees guidance on what is appropriate and what isn't is certainly preferable to this no-man's land where you're always guessing," he says. "Clearly, I would've preferred to keep my job."


Some companies purchase monitoring or time-tracking software, such as Rescue Time, or assess chatter via email, especially for offensive language. This type of software can be installed for the whole company or for individuals, Darling says, "and it can be useful stuff, but I would approach it from a proactive, productivity point of view rather than a Big Brother point of view."

Aloha Pacific FCU's IT department tracks all websites visited by employees and the time spent on each site. The credit union allows employees to visit certain professional websites that may be relevant to their jobs but blocks sites it feels are inappropriate or may compromise sensitive information.

Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing has a nine-page social-networking policy that covers acceptable phone, email and Internet usage. While the firm acknowledges the benefits of social media, it cautions that, if used improperly, it can violate rules of professional conduct and damage the firm's reputation. It is prohibited to use the firm's systems to access social-networking sites purely for social interaction.

At Communications Pacific, where employees are encouraged to use social media to help the business, Lagareta says the rules are basic and explained in a one-page policy. For instance, only designated employees can use CommPac accounts to speak on behalf of the company in social media. The policy asks employees to respect co-workers and clients and not disparage them publicly. It also tells employees not to let social media hurt their work productivity.

"That said, the company encourages employees to use social media as a tool and to explore potential opportunities to add value for clients," Lagareta says.

Darling says the increasing popularity of social media provides extra incentives for businesses to be good employers and to establish open lines of communication with their workforce. Employers should emphasize that if there is a problem at work, it should be discussed with management before taking it to social media. "I think a policy is necessary, but I think too many rules or too little freedom could also backfire," she says.

Lagareta sees it in simpler terms: "My rule of thumb is that I hire grownups. I don't care what age you are, if you don't understand your responsibilities to the company and the clients, I think that's a bigger issue that has little to do with social media or the Internet; it has to do with maturity, honesty, respect and accountability. So far, it's worked pretty well for me."


     Illustration: iStock

Multitasking = Inefficiency

Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford University, says more information is not always better. Nass, who wrote the book "The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships," says our brains are not built to handle multiple data streams at once, such as Facebook updates, emails, text messages and tweets. The information overload decreases efficiency, though most people falsely believe multitasking means they are getting more done.

To maintain productivity, Nass says, do not set up instant alerts for new messages. "Lots of people don't check their email because they're expecting something important or crucial," he explains. "It's because they want a break from what they're doing or are bored."

He suggests carving out 15-minute slots in which to focus on one medium or information source. For example, check your email for 15 minutes at a time. If you don't have enough, wait until you do so you can eliminate distractions throughout the day and increase your productivity. Then, work for an hour or two and take another 15-minute break to focus on either Facebook or Twitter. When it's time to switch into social-media mode, take a quick scan of all your information and data streams and then decide which one you're going to spend the next 15 minutes tackling.


How to create a social-media policy for your business

Consider your business Are you a defense contractor? Are you dealing with sensitive, confidential information? If so, your rules should be more stringent. But a 100-percent ban might not be the most sensible. Consider allowing people access on their breaks or restricting only certain websites that might compromise security. If you encourage employees to promote the company using social media, spell out what kind of information should not be discussed and remind them that if productivity drops, privileges could be revoked.

Know your employees Often, older employees are less technology driven, Darling says. "Most younger employees expect to be connected all the time, so they might need more guidance about the company's social-media policy and why it's necessary." Also, if you have a large company with more employees, there's more room for abuse.

Change takes time "Start off by having brown-bag lunches, or listening campaigns, with employees and ask for feedback on what type of social-media policy would be fair for everyone." Both management and staff need to be educated on the advantages and disadvantages of social media.

Present good data If productivity or efficiency is being compromised, bring hard numbers and facts. "The better data the company has to show that work levels are suffering, the higher the chance employees will understand the need to put policies in place," Darling says.

Put it in writing Be sure to review the policies with employees and address any concerns. Also, discuss potential ramifications for breaking the rules and ask employees to sign the policy upon reviewing it.

Go to for samples of social media policies.


Don't Make "A"

Everyone has their "my job sucks" or "my boss is an idiot" moments, but it's best to refrain from sharing those frustrations with your social network. That's because what you thought was only going to a few close friends may leak out to the rest of the world. The No. 1 piece of advice offered by social-media gurus and HR experts is to use restraint when talking about your job and work. Here's what else they recommend:

Be aware of your brand "What you say on social-media sites today could affect you 30 years later when it's time to apply for a job," Lagareta says. "We've seen it time and time again with politicians. Once you put something online, it's hard to make it disappear." Some people feel they can be uninhibited on social media but would never behave that way in front of a client. "It could get confusing and affect your credibility if you have an online brand that contradicts your professional brand," Lagareta says.

Use privacy settings: Set up groups so only certain people have access to information that you don't want shared with your entire network. And keep re-checking your settings, because sometimes sites change their rules. "When you are not careful about the settings you are using and you link with someone who is a client, you could be baring more information than you'd like to your competition," says Bishop & Co.'s Judy Bishop.

TBYC: Think before you click. For instance, don't hit "reply all" for emails with multiple recipients before considering the nature of your response and to whom it applies, Bishop says. Check the recipients before you send. "It would be devastating to send a private message to the wrong person – or worse, an entire group – because you were careless and typed in the wrong address," she adds.

Extra, extra! "If you wouldn't feel comfortable seeing your post on the front page of the paper, don't do it," cautions blogger Ian Lind.

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

May 12, 2011 12:38 pm
 Posted by  hdoug

It’s ironic that management has to be so wary of employees using social media at a time when more and more organizations are participating so deeply in it themselves. I just returned from a tweetup conducted by NASA for the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. There is no way a company can make a coherent social media policy for its employees without being familiar with its use. Those who know -- like NASA -- can reap the rewards and avoid the risks.

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