7 Tips for Interacting with Employees on Social Media

Here’s a leadership challenge.

What do you do when an employee sends you a “friend request” on Facebook?  What about on LinkedIn?  Or if they follow you on Twitter?

This is today’s reality and it can be very troubling for a leader.  You don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, but where is the line between public and private life?

In Part 1 and Part 2 of Social Media and You (the Leader) we covered some tips on (1) the general landscape and (2) navigating the minefield.  In Part 3, we are going to look at interaction with employees on social media.

By this point, you should know that HOW you engage on social media is really up to you, but that you should have a plan.  Also up to you is how you interact with your employees on social media, but this is one of those places that you really have to weigh the pros and cons.

Unfortunately, as I researched this topic, I found just about as much evidence ‘for’ as I did ‘against’, which wasn’t very helpful.  I did find one private practice legal website that I liked though.  While they took a fairly neutral stance, they certainly provided a little more ‘meat’ than other articles I read.  For your benefit, I am providing the pros and cons that they listed on their website below.

  • Pro: Friending employees can help you discover common interests with your staff and can build camaraderie between people in your workforce.
  • Con: Access to your employees’ Facebook (or other) pages may reveal their personal problems or issues and can introduce “drama” into your work environment.
  • Pro: Allowing your employees access to your Facebook (or other) pages may show your more personable side, which can make you more “approachable” to employees.
  • Con: Connecting through social media may make managers too “approachable” and can blur the line between supervisor and subordinate.
  • Pro: Friending employees may provide insight on how best to motivate employees, which can lead to new, more effective ways of relating to your employees.
  • Con: Reviewing an employee’s Facebook (or other) page may result in discovering an employee’s religious affiliation or health problems, which can be pointed to if claims of discrimination are ever raised by the employee.
  • Pro: Friending your employees may uncover their hidden talents and hobbies which could be useful to your business.
  • Con: To avoid “playing favorites,” if you accept a friend request from one employee, you probably need to accept friend requests from all your employees.

So what do you do?  Here are 7 tips for interacting with employees on social media:

  • KNOW THE RULES.  Know if your company has a policy against being “friends” with subordinates on social media sites.  If they do, then don’t do it.
  • SET BOUNDARIES.  YOU have to make a decision on whether or not you will be friends with employees on social media sites (also bosses, co-workers, colleagues, etc.).  It’s up to you.  But you need to make a decision and set those fence posts.
  • STICK TO YOUR GUNS.  Once you’ve made that decision, apply it consistently.  Don’t treat employees differently (there is a huge opportunity for misperception there).  Treat them all the same.
  • PLAN FOR THE CONVERSATION.  Social media is incredibly personal to some people and they WILL get their feelings hurt if you choose not to “accept” them.  Be prepared to have the conversation with them (usually following the friend request denial) that you have a personal policy of not interacting with employees on social media sites.  This may sting a little at first, but will be better in the long run because it will remove speculation and diminish curiosity as to why.
  • CORRECT THE MISTAKE.  If you start out accepting employees, but figure out that you don’t want to do that anymore, then make the change.  Just know that this too may sting for a little bit, as people associate “unfriending” with not being personally accepted.  Ripping the band-aid of may be the best in this situation.  Just make sure that you communicate it appropriately.
  • DON’T INVITE.  Do not ‘invite’ or ‘friend’ your employees.  Again – social media is very personal.  A boss initiating the invite may make the employee feel like they have to accept and you may be invading their personal space.  This includes asking your employees to “recommend” you on LinkedIn.  Don’t invite or ask.
  • BE NICE, NOT NAUGHTY.  If you decide to be friends with employees on social media sites, take a ‘neutral to nice’ approach to the content you post.   Don’t be negative (in any sense of that word).  Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss or HR to see.  You may think that this doesn’t allow “you to be you”.  But if you want to be “you” without censorship, then don’t invite your employees to the party.

Two more things.

  1.  Watch out for the PROMOTION.  When you promote and the people that you used to call “peer” are now your “subordinates” your relationship changes.  This includes how you engage with each other from a social standpoint, which includes social media sites.  This means one of two things. First, if your policy is not to be “friends” with employees on Facebook, then you may need to ‘unfriend’ your former peers, which is a tough one.  OR, it means that you may need to modify how you use that social site.  Not doing either could be a recipe for disaster (see bullets 4, 5, and 7 above).
  2. You don’t have to have a one size fits all approach to social media sites.  You may NOT want them to be your friends on Facebook, but LinkedIn may be OKAY because it is a professional networking site.  Know how to use the sites, know your purpose, and engage accordingly.

I’m sure this has spawned lots of questions for you.  But this was a great starting place.  Ultimately, the decision is yours.  Just make sure you are making an educated and informed decision.  If you are still unsure, you can always seek advice from your company’s legal counsel.  They should be able to provide you with additional insight and perspective.

Now, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Should a boss be friends with their employees on social media sites?  Why or why not?

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