Monday, August 10, 2009

Should you "friend" your employees?

Several times in recent weeks we have posted here about the increasing importance of social networking as a component of one's "hireability". More and more employers are recognizing the value of the sociosphere to marketing, sales and customer relations, and more value is being revealed every day. When Twitter was off the air for a few hours last week the very real costs to marketers, wired corporations and connected entrepreneurs could probably be measured in millions of dollars – very real dollars. Social sites like Facebook and MySpace give businesses unique insight into client and customer psyches and provide a medium, when well managed, that can be of great value. But, what about the internal value of social media to an organization. What can an employer learn about his employees and vice-versa.

The Proverbial Lone Wolf Librarian references an interesting article at Mashable (via American Express Open Forum), where author Ben Parr says:
"While social media for business has clearer, more tangible benefits to the success of your company, social media for personal use can be a little tricky. On the one hand, it helps you become closer with friends, co-workers, and customers. On the other hand, it can lead to awkward tensions and embarrassing disasters."

"One area where there still isn’t a lot of definition is the relationship between employees, bosses, and employers on the web. Is there a problem with friending your subordinates? Does it help build cohesion among staff, or is it just strange? Do you even want to? I’m hoping to provide some clarity and answers to these questions."
So, Should you friend your employees?

What benefits could there be from friending employees? Social media’s great strength is building connections and sharing information, no matter where you are. By knowing more about each other, you and your employees may become more comfortable with one another and become a more cohesive team. It’s also a faster way to disseminate information to others.

What drawbacks could there be from friending employees? You could quickly learn about things you never wanted to know, and vice-versa. Many people, especially young and starry-eyed college graduates, still put up pictures of themselves drinking or in less-than-flattering situations. You or a friend could also say something that you’d never want employees to learn about.

What’s considered “safe”? It’s fine to interact with employees (and bosses, board members, and potential clients) on professional social networks, primarily LinkedIn

And Twitter? Should I follow my employees? Unless the person has a private Twitter account, it’s not generally a problem. In fact, this may be the best way to get to know an employee outside of work without violating his or her privacy. And your tweets will hopefully provide some insight or even lessons to your team. Yes, there have been incidents like “Cisco Fatty,” where a 22 year old lost a job offer via Twitter, but these instances are very rare.

How about Facebook and MySpace? These are the tricky ones. For many, these are personal and private accounts that provide a looking glass into aspects close to him or her. Because of that, my personal suggestion is to ask before friending on these social networks. There are benefits to a closer relationship with your staff, but don’t invade their privacy or make them feel uncomfortable by friending out of the blue. If you’re still unsure, I highly recommend a CNN/CareerBuilder article on the subject.

So what should my ground rule be? Have a point to your social media friending. Following on Twitter will help you learn more about the insights of your employees, but you may want to consider friending on Facebook only if you’ve turned into fast friends with members of your team. Be respectful of privacy, don’t say anything you wouldn’t want your mom to hear, and ask when you’re unsure, and you should navigate the waters of personal social media use just fine.


Pipsqueak Fiddlesticks said...

Hi David, I don't know if "friending" an employee or even a co-worker is such a great idea! For example:

David Booker said...

Yep. I have seen most of those and totally agree with your assessment. I have many work friends and even my supervisor is a friend. And, while I don't think I would ever post anything negative about my job or any of my friends, it is always on my mind and does cause me to censor a bit.

For me, the biggest problem is that I have almost every thing I do online synced with FB so it sometimes appears that all I do is post! In fact, I post directly to FB quite infrequently. Part of my job description is to "research new and innovative ideas and technologies" and I do much of it "here"...and consequently it shows up "there".