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Ask Britt: What Is the Impact of Social Media on the Workplace?

22 January
by Britt Duncan
4 minute read

Ask Britt is a featured column by contributing writer and HR expert Britt Duncan. Each segment contains a question from our community. This week, Britt answer's: What's the impact of social media on the current workplace?

Social media is a tricky one. Like most addictions, vices, or super duper fun things, we don’t want to admit that it may come with consequences. Or, at the very least have some possible implications. Aftershocks.

This isn’t a warning that engaging in social media too much will rot your brain. That’s what they said about watching TV and look how wrong they were. And plus, I’m not 'they.' I’m your fave HR lady.

Authentic Selves

We often ask our employees to bring their authentic selves to work. Allow me to take a small leap and do that with this article.

I don’t have any social media presence anymore except for my LinkedIn account. I chose to disengage for my mental health a couple years ago. But, social media helped make some major life changes happen for me and I’m forever grateful.

I grew up not knowing my biological father or anyone on his side of the family. My curiosity was unwavering, but growing up in the '90s didn’t provide the best searching options. No offense to the public library, you’re still my favorite.

My life changed in college when my bio dad connected with me on MySpace. Yes, on MySpace; don’t hate. Years later, after I was settling into my career and my adult life, I was able to find siblings I never met on Facebook and develop a bond with them that I only dreamed of before.

Social media was the catalyst for major life altering connections for me. That’s not without value.

On the professional side of my life, Facebook helped me get my first big girl job. Someone who witnessed my work at a summer job in my final college years reached out to me when their company was hiring for a role they thought I had the skillset for.

That job, though I didn’t know it then, would get me on the trajectory for a career in HR. I networked on social media for each opportunity thereafter. And that’s how we got here. And we will live happily ever after. The end.

Actually, Strike That

Okay, not the end; just the beginning. My story is just a small anecdote.

The fact is that the reach of social media is endless. The workplace has been and will continue to be impacted by social media platforms. That’s not always a bad thing; sometimes it’s absolutely awesome. Think about what recruiting efforts and strategy would look like without LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, MySpace (I had to), etc.

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As a recruiting enthusiast who has supported high-volume, full-cycle recruiting, I have to tell you that my reach would be supremely limited if photocopies at Kinko’s were my best bet (as a Millennial I have a great respect Kinko’s and similar classic tech services. So please don’t unfollow me).

Not only can you drive applicants to specific requisitions, but you can consistently speak to a massive audience about your company's mission, vision, and how those things impact your current employees. You give the applicant a chance to decide if the culture you portray is aligned with their beliefs and values. You can facilitate an awesome, lasting connection which can lead to a positive impact on your retention.

But It's Not All Fun and Games

I’ve had some very tough employee relations investigations where social media was the convolution. Most companies have an established social media policy that is designed to protect the employees, as well at the organization.

If for some reason your org has not established one, I highly recommend you make this a priority. I’ve had an employee make some pretty explosive and explicit comments about a protected class on their private social media page, for example.

This employee also had her employer listed on her page. So, when a customer who was not a fan of her vulgarity came across her place of employment, she was on the phone until she reached the top levels of customer service.

I wasn’t on the call, but her complaint can be summarized as: “I find it very hard to be supportive of a company that would allow this kind of thing from their employees.” That investigation concluded with the employee removing us as her employer on her private page and she was reminded of our policies and practices.

I’d like to say she was the only one.

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Another example is one of the even trickier ones where the turf war started off-property on social media and continued at work.

An employee felt harassed by another because of the messages they received before, during, or after work on their page. I’d say nine times out of 10 that one of those employees is more than happy to volunteer copies of those messages to their HR or Employee Relations (ER) rep.

When this happens, you have to proceed with some caution. Since things can get murky, I’d work with your legal team as you proceed through the investigation. But, be on the lookout for things like threatening or disparaging language.

This can help you decide the correct course of action. In my world, that has gone all the way up to termination. Social media is a platform of human communication. And we are responsible for our actions; especially the verbal choices we make.

A High Note

Because it’s too easy to make social media in the workplace a gloom and doom story, I want to finish on a high note so we have a proper feedback sandwich.

HR pros have quite a bit on their plates. Most of us are on LinkedIn or other sites because it is an expectation in our role. But, hear me when I say, you can truly use it as an opportunity to represent and elevate yourself.

You may have forgotten, but you are a person as well; an employee (or fellow HR leader. Hi!). Your social media pages do not belong to the companies that you work for. They are yours. Yup, I said it. You can choose to share and make your elementary teachers very proud. That is 100% okay; I do this myself and I’m the Queen-of-Not-Having-Social-Media-Besides-LinkedIn.

My hope for you is to remember that you need to reflect and boast on your experience as a human being. That’s part of what makes and keeps us human; reflecting on our memories and moving towards new life milestones. Not likes, adds, or shares. Social media gives us this opportunity and to do it collectively in our professional communities.

Britt Duncan is an HR generalist and recruiting enthusiast who’s on a mission to make the world a better place. Britt graduated from William Jewell and holds an aPHR certification. Find her on her only social profile, LinkedIn.

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