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Management: Resistance Is Futile

Why Blocking Employee Access to Social Media Won’t Work

Christine Pilch

Christine Pilch

Many employers are fearful of opening up Pandora’s box and allowing employees access to social sites that may cause a distraction and reduce productivity. Well, if your employees carry cell phones, most of them already have access right in their pockets or purses, so your effort to block access is defeated before you even implement it.
Employers should try to understand that, first and foremost, social-media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and blogs are communication tools. They offer your company a channel to listen, monitor, and engage with customers like never before. They open new sales outlets by introducing your product or service to an expanded group of prospects, and they help to build relationships by creating a human voice and face for your company by empowering employees to listen, care, and resolve issues.
There is a potential dark side, though. Companies risk employees conducting themselves unprofessionally, antagonizing irritable customers, and distributing incorrect information, which may damage your brand. In addition, you may fear that you’re actually providing your employees with toys to play with all day long instead of doing ‘real work.’
So how can an employer cash in on the tremendous potential benefits of social media while mitigating risk? Here are a few suggestions:

Monitor Brand Chatter
The conversations about your product or service are happening on social media whether or not you’re listening, so isn’t it better to know what people are saying about you? This gives you the opportunity to thank loyal customers for their praise, as well as solve problems that often turn unhappy customers into publicly satisfied ones. Ignoring social-media channels is essentially overlooking customer feedback.

Engage in the Conversation
Can you really afford to block access to any place where people are talking about your company? When employees use these communications tools, they ultimately bump into these conversations, whether deliberately or accidentally. This opens up an expanded, albeit perhaps informal brand-monitoring and customer-service channel.

Don’t Worry About Lost Productivity
Do your employees work exclusively 9 to 5, or do they regularly stay late, take work home, and read e-mail off-site? If your employees have the dedication to work outside the traditional box, your concerns about allowing them to check their Facebook page or watch a YouTube video at the office seem a little misdirected.
Remember that social media is a communication channel, and people typically utilize the path of least resistance when reaching out to a company, so social media makes it easy to get to the right person within an organization very quickly. Also, people are migrating to social media to share resources and problem solve, so if you block access, you’re preventing your employees from accessing people who can offer solutions and keeping them at the mercy of time-consuming, paid phone tech support.

Provide Guidelines and Trust Your Employees
Guide your employees in the appropriate use of social media. Remind them that they are representing your company and to refrain from negativity, profanity, and augmentative or confrontational conduct. Encourage them to listen to the chatter and not to be afraid to disclose their identities. Social media is about building relationships, and people don’t build relationships with companies, they build them with people.
You have to trust your employees, and the best way to guide social media efforts is to provide suggestions about how they can help you. Encourage them to report any negativity they bump into, or encourage them to jump in and offer to connect the customer with someone within your organization who can help. This can effectively turn your entire organization into a customer-service team.

The Viral Epidemic
The beauty of social media is that information often spreads virally. Consider the instant celebrity of Susan Boyle from Britain’s Got Talent. Her audition earned her a soft spot across the globe almost overnight because the YouTube video was shared repeatedly across social-media channels. What did that do to viewership? Although few products or services can expect to gain that level of overnight notoriety, people’s choices are affected daily by recommendations made via social-media channels.
People like to share ideas and make recommendations. That’s how things go viral online, and social media provides an ideal vehicle because it’s so easy to share information. If your company is there, you can participate and respond.
Business is done, referrals are made, problems are solved, and chatter about brands happens every day on social media. If you block access, you’re missing out on amazing opportunities to develop relationships with potential customers, those who need help with your products, and people who are your best advocates. Worst of all, you’re handing potential business to your competition if they’re making it easier for customers to communicate than you are. Can you afford that? n

Christine Pilch is a partner with Grow My Company and a social-media marketing strategist. She trains clients to utilize LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and other social-media tools to grow their businesses, and she collaborates with professional service firms to get results through innovative positioning and branding strategies; (413) 537-2474;;

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