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Social Media and Employee Relations: More Than a Policy

Oct 28, 2014
Deb Muller


You might think that social media has no bearing on this particular section of HR, but you’d be wrong. In fact, when you look at social media, it’s all about relationships and so is employee relations, the overarching and highly influential parent of workplace investigations.

Social media is often touted a cure-all for talent acquisition and branding, but only recently have CHROs started to pay attention to this ever encroaching area of nearly every employee’s life. Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn are here to stay and it’s time we boned up on what it means to be socially savvy and still protect our workplaces from investigation.

For marketing purposes, no other media gives you pound for pound reach and ROI that social media does. It continues to evolve and give each employee in your organization more power and voice about the workplace around them. Do you know what they are saying?

Consider the recent case of the Wells Fargo employee Tyrel Oates, who emailed the CEO asking for a $10,000 raise for himself and all his fellow employees and CC’d every other Wells Fargo employee he could find on the thread.

This story has made every major news outlet in the country because it was posted on social news aggregate site Reddit. Since then, it’s a safe bet that Wells Fargo’s CHRO has been hit with a lot of hard decisions about what to do with the initial employee, coaching the CEO on how to respond (if at all) and liaising with the public relations department to triage press responses.

But there is another very large group of people who are only beginning to realize the power placed at their fingertips. The employees CC’d on the initial email (without their consent or knowledge) have likely been ruminating over the proposal Tyrel Oates laid before the CEO. If there were ever an employee relations case study, this would be it!

Social media goes beyond the workplace investigation. For example, the FBI has a glossary of Twitter slang that currently includes 2,900 entries. Monitoring social media from an employee relations perspective can be time consuming and often unnecessary. Legal advocates like HRExaminer’s Heather Bussing suggest that a social media usage policy isn’t a need when one “employs adults” while Elizabeth Lalli Reese disagrees, stating in her previous cases, having a policy that is clearly delineated and widely available has deterred “bad social media behavior”.

Here at HRAcuity, we encourage documentation, policy and process; so it’s easy to guess which side of the debate we fall on. Having a social media policy not only discourages bad behavior when read and followed, but the very act of having one at all (and notifying employees of its centralized existence) creates awareness of this relatively new phenomenon and its potential effects on the organization.

As Compliance Officer – Technology Projects of BNP Paribas, John Ryan says,

“Social media is fast-eclipsing other forms of communication for this, and upcoming generations. It’s important that banks keep pace with these changes. My advice to organizations wary of enabling social media in the workplace is that they ensure that the right internal policies and controls are put in place to minimize their risk.”

But social media is not just about fear. It can be a great tool with which to increase loyalty to an organization and create more two-way communication throughout the organization. Remember, social media initially broke down hierarchies between large media companies and the individual blogger, established celebrities and new media ingénues, certified experts and new entrants. It can do the same for your company. BNP Paribas used social media to ensure its employees were safe and informed during a time of unrest in certain areas and in doing so succeeded in strengthening their employer brand by efficiently delivering information to its staff.

Social media can be difficult to manage without appropriate policies in place but when you manage it from a policy standpoint AND use it to strengthen the bond between employee and employer, you gain a valuable tool with which to communicate within the enterprise.

photo credit: Jason A. Howie via photopin cc

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.

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