Social Chaos

The www in world wide web has always seemed like it should stand for “wild wild west.” After all, that’s what the web has been. New territory. Unproven. Lawless. And filled with possibilities. Now that social media sites are rampant, it’s wilder than ever — especially when it comes to that fine line between our personal lives and our professional lives.

We can now follow people in our industry on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Google+ and Pinterest among others. Their tweets, posts and pins give us glimpses not just into their business lives, but into their personal lives as well as. And this is where things get tricky.

Both businesses and employees are using these tools for self promotion, networking and information gathering. Many businesses, however, are asking to see potential employees’ Facebook pages before they hire them. This is an invasion of their privacy. Facebook is outraged at the thought. Meanwhile, employees are being fired for posting negative comments about their employers and/or coworkers.

That’s defamatory. (Not to mention, incredibly stupid.)

Once you post something, it’s immediately visible and, possibly, even “shared.” It’s ironic that things we WANT to go viral never do. But put something up that you’re going to regret and it’s all over the place.

Then there’s the question of productivity. When employees check their Facebook or other social media sites during office hours, does productivity suffer? Opinions vary. But if you’ve ever spent a minute on a YouTube channel, you know how quickly that minute turns into an hour. Using these sites at work is a lot like taking a smoking break. It’s a privilege that can easily be abused.

Pinterest has managed to add an entirely new level of legal chaos to businesses. While individuals can use it fairly harmlessly, companies who “pin” must be very careful or they’ll find themselves on the wrong side of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

So what is a business to do?

The answer lies in policies.

It’s becoming increasingly important for companies to establish guidelines on employees’ use of social media sites during business hours. Even when social media is part of what your business does, like it is for us, you owe it to your employees to be clear about what is and is not acceptable.

Sixty years ago, employers had issues with their employees taking too many personal calls. The telephone was an employee’s biggest distraction. These days, employees email, text, use chatrooms, instant message, Facebook and Skype before they ever consider picking up a phone. And that wild wild west of the world wide web holds more distractions than BellSouth had phone numbers. So while you don’t want to cut your employees off from the world during office hours, you do want them to focus on your business. After all, that’s what they’re being paid to do.

So do some research, think about your company’s culture and define your parameters on the use of social media in the workplace. Write them out clearly for your employees to make sure they’re understood. Because that ever-blurring line between business and personal is only as defined as you make it.