Managing and Monitoring Your Social Connections

Many small businesses understand the importance of social media for their marketing efforts. Their owners or managers may be active on a variety of platforms — from Facebook and LinkedIn to Twitter and Instagram — and many run blogs with information relevant to their target markets. At the same time, many small business owners are close socially with their employees. They may play on common recreational league teams, go out together for happy hours, etc.

Just as there should be boundaries in your social interactions with employees, there should be certain ground rules for engaging with employees on social media. Here are some key considerations.

Connecting with Employees on Social Media

Even something as basic as making an initial social media connection with an employee should be considered carefully. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to Facebook friend an employee; however, it may be appropriate to connect on LinkedIn. In small organizations this might depend on the business owner’s overall philosophy on relationships with employees. In larger organizations, it may be a policy issue.

If you’re in a small business setting where the employees really are your friends, it may be logical to form these kinds of connections. If you have a more formal business environment, maybe not. LinkedIn is a more professional social network, so it is far more common to see managers and staff members connected to each other there — the conversations and posts that occur, though, are business-centered. Facebook is a far more social channel, which may make it problematic from a business standpoint.

Ground Rules for Your Online Employee-“Friends”

If you do end up connecting with your employees, it’s important to maintain your professionalism in your interactions — the same as you would in face-to-face interactions. The same rules apply. Don’t get personal. Don’t make comments that are derogatory, sexual, biased or harassing in any way. Here’s a good way to think about this: don’t say or post anything that you wouldn’t want to appear as the headline or lead story in the national news (or the local news).

Monitoring Employee Social Media Activity

Although it might seem like spying or being nosey to track employee social media activity, many employers do this. It can be a good way to get a sense of their interests and concerns. There’s a line between monitoring and responding to employee comments, though, and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issues need to be considered. Employers should exercise caution when indicating to employees what they can and cannot post, or when disciplining them for comments they make online about working conditions. This is an area where legal advice should be sought.

General Rules

Employers should always be very aware that anything they post online — even if it’s just a message they send to a single individual — has the potential for much broader distribution.

Don’t post anything that may reflect negatively on you, or your organization — or that may potentially damage your organization’s brand.

Do monitor and be prepared to respond to comments online related to your business, but don’t engage in lengthy, back-and-forth negative discussions that may quickly escalate. Instead, acknowledge the comment and then take it offline.

Both social media and close relationships with employees are good for business, and, depending on the context, there might be little harm in mixing the two; however, just as with any employer-employee interaction, there should be some boundaries that you, as a small business owner, respect.

How have you addressed issues related to social media interactions between staff, and company-related comments and posts, in your organization? What challenging issues have you faced?

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