Whether you tweet or don’t tweet, love Facebook or think it’s a waste of time – with nearly one and a half billion users worldwide, social media looks as though it’s here to stay.

So how should employers respond to the social networking trend? Is it a blessing or a curse when used in the workplace? Here are some examples of the good, the bad and the ugly:

The Good

When it comes to marketing, the popularity of social media has real power to boost your business. It can be especially useful for SMEs which often score higher on creativity than advertising budgets.

When the owner of Fallowfields Hotel in Oxfordshire was faced with a recession and a cut in marketing budget, he used Twitter to generate 1,000 followers and £150,000 of new business within 18 months. How? With engaging, regular tweets on subjects including the hotel’s menu and a popular “Did You Know” series.

Or, for really creative use of Facebook, take a look at the winners of the Social Media Examiner’s Top 10 Small Business Facebook pages, which include gemstone company Earthegy and Recruit Military.

The Bad

But there’s a downside. As an employer, should you even allow your staff access to social websites at work? After all, keeping in touch with friends or making witty remarks on Twitter isn’t exactly what they’re being paid for. There’s also the issue of computer bugs generated from downloaded web apps, not to mention the HR problems of online comments affecting staff and, potentially, the company’s good name.

Also, while social media can undoubtedly be a hit marketing strategy, other companies which have signed up to tools like LinkedIn and Twitter have reported getting nothing from it.

When it comes to productivity, research has come up with results on both sides of the coin. Of the businesses surveyed in a study by Proskauer International Labor & Employment Group, 43 per cent had dealt with employees’ misuse of social websites. But other research has found allowing staff access to networking sites actually increases productivity by improving motivation.

The Ugly

And then there are the epic failures. Examples of where the viral nature of YouTube, Facebook and other sites has spelled a PR catastrophe. Take L’Oreal, which provoked much anger from its customers when it published a fake blog which purported to be written by a user of its anti-wrinkle cream, or BP, which provoked a highly popular spoof Twitter campaign after the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Social Media & the Workplace An infographic by the team at Unum UK

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The Lessons – How to Get Social Media in the Workplace Right

  1. Give, don’t sell. There’s nothing worse than aggressive selling tweets or a boring Facebook page. “Social” is the key word here. Think about what your business offers and tailor your social media strategy accordingly. If you’re a photography business, tweet tips on how to take great pictures. If you’re a restaurant, try recipe ideas. You’ll get more followers that way.
  2. Regular updates: Once you’ve got Facebook “likes” or Twitter followers, don’t let people down by failing to keep up the momentum. Tweet and post updates regularly. Otherwise you’ll put people off.
  3. Implement a social media policy: Give employees a written policy stating what you expect from them as regards social media usage. For example, allow it only in lunch breaks. Make it clear nothing derogatory should be written about your business, and that breaches will result in disciplinary action.
  4. Respond quickly to negative publicity: If you should be unfortunate enough to suffer negative social media coverage, respond quickly and in kind. If there’s a dodgy video about your product on YouTube, post a correcting video.

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