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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5 Suggestions for Avoiding Social Media Blunders

Social Media.  Personally, I’m a big fan and huge user!  Wrong or right, it is shaping how we communicate as a society.  More importantly for us, it’s shaping how we communicate as leaders.  Being leaders means that people watch our actions closely and social media now gives those watchers a magnifying glass.

As Part 2 in our series Social Media and You (the Leader), I wanted to get a little more personal and talk about how to avoid some of the missteps.

For myself, I’m engaged on lots of different platforms (e.g., Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.).  You may be different, but chances are, you’ve ventured out and tried at least one platform (most likely Facebook or MySpace).  I’m generally pretty open in my use of social media, but am extremely cognizant of whom I’m engaging with and how.  I also know how to use the features and tools on the sites that I participate on.  AND, I am very mindful of the content I post.

Leaders be ready!  How you engage is really up to you, but navigating the social media minefield requires a little bit of thought and discipline.

Here are 5 practical tips to help you out:

  • LEARN TO DRIVE.  Think of social media platforms like a car.  Every car is different (so are social media platforms).  Every car has different features (so do social media platforms).  You have to learn the ‘rules of the road’ to drive successfully (the same is true for social media platforms).  You can crash in a car and can cause injury or damage (as you can on social media platforms).  A car can provide great freedom, efficiency, and opportunity in one’s life (as can social media platforms).   The key is to learn how to use your “car” effectively.  Doing so will improve the chance that you don’t make inadvertent mistakes (like posting things to the wrong audience).  Learn how to set the privacy and security features.  Learn what other’s see when you post.  Learn how to use filters and groups.  Learn how to retract posts.  Learn how to use the features of the platforms correctly.  When you learned to drive, you probably had someone instruct you.  Social media platforms all have tutorials – use them wisely.
  • DEFINE YOUR PURPOSE for using social media.  Know why you are there.  Are you using it for professional purposes (e.g., job hunting, networking, relationship management, etc.)?  Are you using it for sharing your latest personal thoughts and ideas?  Are you using it to promote your business?  Keep in touch with friends and family?  Whatever your desire, be disciplined in your use and be cautious in mixing purposes.  Sharing the wrong content with the wrong people can have disastrous consequences.  For example, posting a rant about how bad [insert your rival college football team here] did this last year on Linkedin, probably won’t help you get that new job (especially if the recruiter went to school there). Define how you want to engage and why and then stick with it!
  • KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.  Hopefully, from the previous point, you’ve defined the people that you want to engage with.  Once you’ve defined how you want to use a social media site, only invite and accept invites, friend requests, or whatever else from those that fit that definition.  If you want Facebook to be a place for you to share info with family and real friends, then do that.  If you want LinkedIn to just be business contacts, then do that.  But be prepared to “ignore” or “reject” some friend requests from people that don’t fit “the profile”.  We’ll tackle this in the next post.
  • KEEP IT CLEAN.  Treat anything that you want to put in to Facebook or any other social media site like it is PUBLIC information!  Don’t ever think otherwise.  Even with the strictest of privacy settings in place, don’t ever think that you’re only sharing information with your “best buddies”.  Others that have access to your info can share, retweet, repost, link to, copy, or “screen shot” your information and may unintentionally (or intentionally) share information that you don’t want shared with others.  This is one of the most frequent landmines that I see on a regular basis.  Rule of thumb:  Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want your parents, pastor, or boss to read.
  • QUARREL NOT!   For all the reasons listed in the last point, Facebook or other sites are not the place to “air your dirty laundry” or someone else’s.  Just like in any other form of communication, there are right and wrong ways to do things.  Personally, I’m a believer that if you and I have an “issue” then I am going to come and talk to you about it.  Not email it, voice mail it, text it, or heaven forbid – post it on Twitter.  Plus, it makes you look like a jerk.  If someone goads you, then let it go or take care of it “offline”.  Don’t fall in to the trap of public self-destruction.

In the next post, we’ll talk a little about how employees and co-workers play in to your social media use.

What tips do you have for avoiding social media blunders?

Enjoy!

~J

Social Media and You (the Leader): Part 1

Have you received a “friend request” from an employee on Facebook?  Is a colleague “following you” on Twitter?  Has a client or vendor invited you to “Join Them” on Linkedin?  These are the realities of today’s social media age and they aren’t going away any time soon.  Being a leader today is much more highly visible than ever before.

I’d like to explore this topic over a few posts and get your feedback on the social media age and how it impacts you as a leader.  So, let’s get started.

About a decade and a half ago, we were talking about the rise of 24 hour multi-media.  Images of newsworthy (and some not-so-newsworthy) events were plastered continuously all over television and the evolving web.  However, we as the common bystander were just that.  Mere voyeurs to a world that was happening around us.  And for many, there was comfort in that anonymity.

Enter social media and mobile technology.

Social media (especially that enabled by mobile technology) has taken 24 hour multi-media to a whole new and very personal height.  At any second in the day, I can catch up on what the guy that sat 4 seats behind me in my high school algebra class (20-ish years ago) had for lunch today and what he thought about it.  I can also check on where my sister last “checked in”, what my children saying about me, and that my college roommate still likes New Kids on the Block.  Depending upon how I’ve used or opened myself up in social media, I may also know what my employees, co-workers, and boss are doing and think.

That’s an awful lot of information.  And some quite personal information.  AND in many cases….TMI.

The great majority of those over the age of 13 today are involved in or have used some type of social media.  Facebook (founded in 2004) boasts over 750M users worldwide, Twitter has over 200M members, and Linkedin has over 100M members.  And that’s just the big three.  Add in Digg, Foursquare, My Space, etc. and the numbers and frequency of use becomes staggering.  AND THEN you add in the new Google+ platform and the competitive social landscape really heats up dramatically.  All of the metrics I’ve seen only show continued rapid growth for social media usage.

So why the long set up?

It’s to underscore the importance that social media is playing in our world today.  The same world that we have to be leaders in.  Our environment is changing and we need to adapt to it.

It begs the question, “How do we as leaders use social media in our personal and business lives?

I tried to do some research on this topic, but found that there were many many differing opinions.  And quite honestly, it really depends on you, what you want to accomplish, and how disciplined you are.  So, I don’t think there are any right or wrong answers when it comes to “should you or shouldn’t you” use social media.

But, here’s four things to consider:

  1. Social media is a tool.  In fact, it can be a very powerful tool.  Powerful good and powerful bad.  You can use it to communicate, network, share, and interact with just about anyone you choose only at the risk of exposing your thoughts to others.  I have friends who are very savvy that use it to drive their businesses by creating a following.  I have friends that use it merely as a social platform for friends and family.  I also have friends that (in my opinion) make idiots of  themselves in a “public place” (which leads to the next point).
  2. Social media is public.  Regardless of how private you set your privacy settings, posting things to your “wall” can (and may) become public information.  I cringe when I see people trash others on Facebook or use Twitter to carry out a barrage of insults on someone who has done them wrong.  Folks, they call it “re-tweeting” for a reason and your private tirade can become a public spectacle in about 3 seconds anymore.  Further, the word “public” means just that.  It could include your boss, co-workers, employees, a job recruiter, client, and so on even if you aren’t “friends” with them on that social platform.
  3. Social media is in writing.  And photos.  And videos.  These are all mediums that can be copied, reproduced, and shared quickly.  If you don’t want other people to know, then don’t write about it.  If you’re concerned that people will judge you for attending that party last Saturday night, then don’t post a picture of yourself dancing on a table top while holding a bottle of your favorite adult beverage.  Writing, posting, and uploading content in some cases can create a permanent record, so be mindful of what you’re putting in that permanent record.
  4. Social media is immediate.  This one kills me.  On some platforms, the second you hit send it’s out there.  The second you tweet it, post it, or digg it – others will know.  Don’t expect it to be any different.  And since a large portion of people access social media through mobile phones (that they carry with them 24/7), the chances that they will see your information sooner, rather than later, is very likely.
We’ll jump in to some tips for navigating the social media mindfield and how employees play in to that mix in coming posts.
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So, what’s your stance?  How do you use social media today?  Leave a comment and share!
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Enjoy!
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~Jason
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