One of the difficult aspects of the modern working environment is the ever increasing "grey" area between our working and social lives. Many people run their own businesses from home or work as contractors to enable a better "work / life" balance. Corporate employees work on the run, using mobile devices to answer emails and work from home and conduct personal activities at work due to long hours. The question as to when we are at work and when we are at play can often be answered by "we are doing both at the same time" and is certainly neither geographically or time dependent.
This raises the issue on social media of how to avoid blending work and social activities to your (or your companies) detriment. Ideally all organisations would have a social media policy that addresses this and it's important that some kind of delineation is maintained.
It's actually not a new issue, but it is emphasised by our increasing mobility of work and information. In the past it was easy enough to leave home in a suit, arrive at the office and be "in work mode". Clients were kept at a safe distance and rarely mixed with socially; maybe the odd work function. These days you can be in your pyjamas in front of the computer writing a proposal and answering work emails or in a suit at work keeping up with your friends on Facebook.
What are some of the considerations that should be addressed in a social media policy to avoid possibly disastrous social media blending of work and personal activity?
- Clearly identify which are work sites and which are personal sites. In our organisation we have a corporate Facebook page as well as employees having personal Facebook pages. LinkedIn is clearly a professional site, while twitter can be either depending on which you are posting from.
- Don't mix personal and work in terms of "friending" or "following". This can be confusing as over time a work colleague may, for example, become a friend but you need to prioritise the relationship ie is this person a friend over being a colleague or a colleague over being a friend. Same for customers. It is not professional to "friend" your customers on a personal site unless they are very good friends - first! This can have major ramifications if you get it wrong and we have been involved in mediating disputes between colleagues who have been "unfriended" on Facebook.
- Content is also important in this context. Clearly outline guidelines as to what is appropriate content to post on work social media sites and personal social media sites. For example, LinkedIn should definitely contain professional content that relates to a working environment, as should the company Facebook and Twitter sites.
- There is also the issue of "linking" sites. Personal and work social media sites should be left discrete and separate to avoid embarrassing gaffes. You don't want your personal Foursquare account to publish to the company Twitter account if you are checking into a pub and posting drunken comments.
The best way to implement this part of a social media policy is to set it as part on an ongoing discussion. Once employees understand the ramifications of mixing their work and personal activity on social media they are more likely to behave appropriately - eventually it will become habit to momentarily consider "is this work or personal" when they are posting online.