Yammer Time!

 

futureyammerino365_img2The title of my blog is admittedly hokey, but nonetheless, my hope is that following the completion of reading this you will consider the use of an internal social media tool such as Yammer as you explore ways to communicate effectively with your employees.

26d25e2Effective communication skills are vital for leaders to possess and demonstrate.  The communication between a leader and others should be transparent and encourage dialogue and participationWestman, Bonnet, and McAfee (2014) stated communication must be authentic in nature and be consistent with the vision and mission of the leader and the organization they represent.  The authors of Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation, also encouraged the use of an internal social network to describe change, improve process and again, encourage employees to share feedback and ideas openly.  Yammer is one such tool that allows employees and leaders to communicate in a independent space and creates opportunities for collaboration.

I recently accepted a position at a university, leaving behind a place I called home for over 17 years.  I find myself at a new institution with a new team and, I am desperate to find ways of communicating in an efficient manner.  I have a vision of what we can be and what we can accomplish.  In the past, I have been open and shared information freely, and on more than one occasion I have found that perhaps I have shared more than I should have.  In my new role, I have been cautious of what to share and what not to share as I find my way.  However, Weinberger (2011) explained that individuals do not fear having too much information, they are frightened by the thought of not having enough information.  He went on to express that our social networks are the new filters, and our networks are those in which we gather information.  Technologies such as internal social networks are creating new possibilities that can enhance the way we do business, things that were not possible in the recent past (Westerman, Bonnet, & McAfee, 2014).

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Yammer is an internal social media platform utilized by 85% of the Fortune 500 companies.  It is currently the leading enterprise social media platform with the purpose of driving organizational collaboration and transformation.  The product launched in 2008 and quickly grew in popularity over the next several years before Microsoft acquired Yammer in 2012.  In 2014, Yammer was incorporated into Office 365 where it resides as an application with the product as an organizational private communication tool.  Microsoft boasts that Yammer works seamlessly with Office enabling users to easily share files and enhancing Office 365 with internal social media capabilities.   Similar to Facebook in look and navigation, the tool allows for groups to be formed and work to shared with the entire organization, groups, or individuals.  There are suggested people and groups to follow as well as the ability to like and share ideas and comments other users have posted.  Yammer offers access from your desktop and laptop as well as through mobile apps.  The accounts are connect to the organization’s email domain.  It is meant for use internally; however, external groups can be created which can be useful when working with customers or in collaboration with partners.

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There is much to consider when deciding whether or not to implement the use of Yammer.  Advantages and disadvantages may depend on the leader and the organization.  The topics I have identified as items to consider.

Topics

  1. Does it build community or create cliques and silos?
  2. How will the use of the various offices be decided?
  3. Are you prepared to deal with legal issues?
  4. Who on the leadership team will be contributing?
  5. How often will you be prepared to post and respond to others?
  6. How will you respond to other’s suggestions and questions?
  7. Will you incorporate a moderator?
  8. How will you ensure your message is clear and understood as you intended?
  9. How are you going to measure the effectiveness?

Discussion

  1. The intent of Yammer is to create a community of open communication and sharing of work and ideas. Some may be quick to adapt to technologies such as Yammer and some may not.  Be cautious not to isolate those not comfortable with the new tool and be prepared to assist them in learning.
  2. Westman, Bonnet, and McAfee (2014) explained how a company had separate platforms for different departments which created silos. Additionally, the use of groups can be wonderful in building teams but beware of cliques and having the creation of silos.  How will you ensure this does not happen!
  3. It would be wise to include the Human Resource Office in creating adequate and expectations. A message meant for one person can easily be sent to the entire organization, even the less than desirable messages.  What will the organization’s stance be on what is appropriate and what is not?
  4. It may be worthwhile to identify which members of the leadership team will be sending messages and work on having consistency in the message, especially when it comes to vision and mission of the organization.
  5. A consistent presence on Yammer will be important. Simply posting once or once in a great while will minimize the effectiveness of Yammer.  If you are going to use the tool, be prepared to be committed to it to maximize the return.  Implementing Yammer and making sure it is a transformational tool requires the leader of the organization to be one of the driving forces (Westerman, Bonnet, & McAfee, 2014).
  6. Are you prepared to respond early and often to those posting questions and ideas? A quick response time with answers and comments will be expected.  If ideas are going to be shared, those sharing their ideas will expect that at least some of their ideas will be implemented.  If you are not prepared to listen to ideas and implement them, the effectiveness of the tool and the participation of the employees will dwindle.
  7. It might be wise to have someone in the organization monitor the company Yammer account to filter questions to you as the leader or to others so that they can respond. If postings are not appropriate according to the expectations set forth by the Human Resource Office, the comments can be removed promptly.
  8. Make sure that your message is reviewed by others. Is it conveying the message you want?  The written word can be interpreted in different ways by the reader.  There is a risk of someone feeling there is an unintended tone or read into it further than intended.  A clear and concise message is important.
  9. The effectiveness of the tool should be assessed on a regular basis. This can be done through monitoring the activity on the account for example.  Determining the ROI is advised.
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15 thoughts on “Yammer Time!

  1. Nice review. Your 9 topics/questions could frame the discussion of a number of digital tools on the Top 200 list!

    We treid Yammer out at VCU (as well as Google Plus), but most of us were already using Twitter, and the duplication of posts and the need to follow multiple paths made Yammer and Google Plus problematic for some of us.

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    • Dr. Watwood,

      I appreciate your comments in respect to multiple paths. The fact that there is a Top 200 List (that is top 200 and not all of the options available) is overwhelming in itself. I do not think of myself as a techy but I thought I had a decent understanding of the technologies that are available to individuals and organizations. That was my thought prior to scanning the Top 200 list. Individuals and organizations have many options and technologies they are comfortable with and have confidence in meeting their needs. One of the articles from Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2015/04/why-no-one-uses-the-corporate-social-network.) I came across does a good job of addressing the issue you mention and options leaders have in trying to solve the issue of finding buy in. The takeaway from the article focuses on the need for leaders to be heavily involved in the implementation and for the use of the tool to have specific uses. If the employees feel it is just a flavor of the month with no substance, few will use the tool.

      Jason

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  2. Love your enthusiastic embrace of Yammer. I didn’t even realize that it was part of Microsoft 365 and it made me curious what functionalities my team is missing out on. Great job in listing and addressing areas for concern. I was interested to read your mention of leaders playing such a significant role and would be interested to learn more about how this plays out in other companies. At Disney Yammer is a collaborative tool with many sub-groups, some open and some by invitation. However there is no consistent leadership presence. What you describe in terms of the leader participating and monitoring seems more like what we would look for in a leadership blog or message. So your vantage point helped me see Yammer in a very different light.

    Also regarding use – we definitely have a core group of Yammerites but it seems to be unable to appeal more broadly. I follow a couple streams but the same people consistently post. What ways have you found to broaden the appeal? And tying both of these elements together is an article by Charlene Li, Why No One Uses the Corporate Social Network https://hbr.org/2015/04/why-no-one-uses-the-corporate-social-network . She specifically mentions the lack of leadership presence as being a crucial factor in overall adoption.
    Thanks for the new perspective – Tricia

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    • Tricia,

      Thank you for your comments. I am brand new to Yammer, but I see the value due to it being a Microsoft product. I knew nothing about Yammer until this week. My institution is an Office 365 user so like you; I was pleasantly surprised Yammer was bought and implemented as a Microsoft product. I see the value, but unless a leader is encouraging the use of the product, I think you will see sporadic use similar to what both Dr. Watwood and you commented. Employees need to see value as well. There needs to be specific uses identified, training of employees (for those that need it), and consistent use. Earlier in the week, I found the same article you shared (https://hbr.org/2015/04/why-no-one-uses-the-corporate-social-network.) and shared it with Dr. Watwood before reading your comments. I think the article did a nice job of addressing both the challenges as well as some decent solutions. I have begun trying to introduce Yammer to my leadership team. My plan is to see if we see a benefit before encouraging others on our team to use the tool. Can you share your experience further? Any suggestions? An article I found today on the SHRM website (https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/managingsocialmedia.aspx) offered some suggestions for addressing some of the questions I posed. It is worth the read.

      Thanks again,

      Jason

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      • Jason,
        That was a great review of Yammer, and those questions are hugely valuable (for any technology as noted by Dr. Watwood).
        I am using Yammer more today than ever. Proper placement of the right tool is critical for its adoption. One of the challenges I ran into early were the evangelists trying to convince everyone to abandon email, and just use Yammer. My first “aha” moment was when I was studying for an architecture exam and joined a Yammer group for that purpose. Yammer is a great place for discussion, but also a repository for documents and other artifacts for reference. So the discussion was good, and often pointed to a specific document to read about a section of the exam.
        I am also an instructor, so regularly create a Yammer group for a class, and put just about everything up there for the class. This includes pictures of posters/notes created in class, videos that students create, along with logistic information.
        The downside is the Yammer group overload that can occur. I get added to groups all the time and the menu gets pretty messy, so I learn to leave groups or just ignore them.
        I do like that it will email me when someone posts something in the groups, but this leads to the argument, “why don’t we just email?”. But I would miss Yammer if it went away now, as I have incorporated it into my processes – which is what I am trying to do with Twitter now – still a little lost on that one.
        Thanks,
        Shawn

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      • Jason,
        Shawn did a nice job answering part of the question you posed to me – in terms of use. The affinity groups are a major use of Yammer for us. We have groups for many personal and business interests and like Shawn does with his students, sometimes teams create their own group – both temporary work teams and longer term. Yammer is also the place for everyone to ask technical questions about hardware and software. It might be someone from the Studios asking about a camera or a front desk person asking about concierge software – they pose it on the feed and someone has an answer. Pretty tactical.

        Funny that we both found the same article. That happened with Dr. Watwood last week – I used an article and site that he uses for a later week. Well good news is we are clearly aligned 🙂
        Tricia

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  3. Jason, thank you for your insights, and thank you more than anything for the post title. ☺

    I am struggling to see the value proposition of this tool. Doing some outside reading in addition to your review, I like that there is integration with other frequently used workplace tools, but I am not confident Yammer really adds anything. I know I would have to try it to make a fully formed opinion.

    We have an internally built social network, as a separate destination, and I do not go there at all. There must be some users, as activity on it gets mentioned on conference calls, but other than setting up my basic profile, I have not been back. It just felt like one more thing to do.

    Even with a fully integrated solution, there is the problem of changing behavior. Shawn mentioned email, and getting folks to abandon it seems an uphill battle. I see cases where tool providers, like Microsoft or Google, seem to think they know best and make a change that feels absolutely derailing in favor of pushing a new program or process. For example, as a probably unlikely scenario, let us say that Microsoft plans to eliminate Outlook to force Yammer usage.

    Your topics and discussion points are thorough and spot on. I am curious whether you think decisions like whether to implement Yammer should be made at a high level or involve as much of the company as possible in the discussion you framed?

    References
    Roe, D. (2014, July 13). The problem with Yammer? People don’t use it. CMS Wire. Retrieved from http://www.cmswire.com/cms/social-business/the-problem-with-yammer-people-dont-use-it-025957.php

    Julie

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    • Julie,

      Good evening. This exercise has exposed me to this tool for the first time, so I do not have experience using Yammer quite yet. I see the value and appreciate Shawn sharing his experience with using Yammer. My plan is to try and use it with our leadership team in my area as we work on projects, and I would also like to try it with a retention committee that we have recently formed. I think it has the potential to be an excellent tool for committee work as a number of us across campus work on compiling data. I will share my experience with the tool as I give it a chance in coming months.

      Thank you,

      Jason

      Like

      • Jason, thank you. Yes please as to any insights as you begin using Yammer with your teams. Your mention of leveraging it as a tool for the retention committee made me consider application as a retention tool. That would be interesting too if broad engagement could be worked out…seeing if Yammer use impacted turnover.

        Julie

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    • “… I see cases where tool providers, like Microsoft or Google, seem to think they know best and make a change that feels absolutely derailing in favor of pushing a new program or process.”

      Maybe not so unlikely, Julie. A few years back, the RSS reader used by most people (including me) was Google Reader. With little notice, they announced they were discontinuing the service. Luckily, a new company – Feedly – not only provided a similar service, but offered to transfer any feeds over. So I now use Feedly (and pay for the premium service, as I think it is worth it.

      In a similar vein, Delicious (which is still around) used to be the predominate social bookmarking service. They announced major changes that removed much of the functionality we all liked, but a new service – Diigo – stepped in and offered to move any Delicious accounts over. At the time, I had around 4 thousand websites bookmarked in Delicious. Four years later, I now have over 7 thousand websites bookmarked in Diigo.

      So I have learned that tools come and go…and to be ready to jump if necessary!

      Like

  4. Dr. Watwood,

    I am not sure why the link is not working now. I ran into the same problem when I tried this evening. I was able to find the full article without a membership when I Googled the article. I have copied and pasted the information below in case the link again requires you to have a membership.

    https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/managingsocialmedia.aspx

    Managing and Leveraging Workplace Use of Social Media

    Jan 19, 2016

    Scope—This article provides an overview of the use of social media by employers and their employees. Topics include common business applications of social networking sites, employee use of social media at work and potential risks of social media in the workplace. The article covers the role of human resources, policy development, and emerging legal and regulatory issues. The article does not cover marketing-related applications of social media.

    Overview

    The exploding growth of social media has significantly changed the way people communicate at home and at work. Social media applications include sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, Yelp, Flickr, Snapchat, Instagram, Second Life, WordPress and ZoomInfo. Not only has social media changed the way we communicate, but these applications present great opportunities for businesses in the areas of public relations, internal and external communications, recruiting, organizational learning and collaboration, and more. See Using Social Media to Find, Manage Talent.

    This article discusses frequently used business applications for social media, including recruiting, building employee engagement and communication, strategic real-time listening tools for business intelligence, and expanding learning opportunities among employees. Another vital application of social media by employers is as a knowledge-sharing platform, with employees at all levels using blogs, microblogs (similar to Twitter), expert directories and communities of practice. These tools and groups turn social media into collaborative tools to improve work product and workflow.

    Also presented are the potential issues created when employees use their personal social media accounts while at the office, possibly affecting productivity, data security and network security. “Friending” and other contact among employees on social media can open the employer to possible legal issues. Even the social media use policies that employers write to help control use can pose legal issues if poorly written or administered. HR in many organizations is taking the lead in developing, communicating and enforcing social media policies and on keeping tabs on the changing legal landscape of social media.

    Background

    Social media are information-based tools and technologies used to share information and facilitate communications with internal and external audiences. Well-known examples of social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but social media can take many different forms.

    Those forms can include Internet forums, online profiles, podcasts, pictures and video, e-mail, instant messaging, music sharing programs, and Internet-based voice services (voice over IP), to name just a few. Social media also include applications sometimes known as “Web 2.0,” a term encompassing technologies such as blogs, texting, wikis, and other applications like Google Reader, Google Docs and Ryze, a site linking business professionals.

    Organizations can make use of social media in a variety of ways. Departments can hold brainstorming sessions or maintain ongoing conversations with questions and answers on a blog; teams can use wikis to manage projects, share best practices and research case studies; the CEO can keep a blog or record a podcast; and organizations can immediately deliver news to employees.

    Collaborative technologies are valuable in the workplace because of their effectiveness in improving understanding and teamwork, building relationships and developing lateral communication. The novel aspect of social media is their conversational tone: Knowledge sharing takes place through processes including discussion with questions and answers (online forums), collaborative editing (wikis) or storytelling with reactions (blogs).

    Because social media are relatively new territory for both employers and employees, many questions still exist about how these tools should and should not operate in the workplace. For employers, the key questions are how to get business benefits out of these platforms and how to ensure that employee use of social media while at work is neither distracting nor potentially harmful to the organization. See An Examination of How Social Media is Embedded in Business Strategy and Operations

    In 2015, a Pew Research Center survey found that Millennials (those born after 1985) make up 34 percent of the U.S. workforce. Given that this group of employees has grown up actively communicating via myriad social media sites and devices, the use of social media is a workplace trend with staying power for the foreseeable future. Employers are aware that social media raise questions about appropriate use. Proskauer’s 2013/2014 “Social Media in the Workplace Around the World Survey” found that 80 percent of companies now have social media policies, and 70 percent of organizations with such policies had taken disciplinary action against an employee for violating their policies.

    Business Case

    Organizations that do not include social media in their business strategy run the risk of losing relevance in the market. Even traditional “brick and mortar” companies generally have some presence in social media, be it the CEO having a presence on Twitter or a page on Facebook. More and more, companies are including social media as part of their strategic planning processes, including recruitment, training and development, and to influence organizational change. Recruitment may see improvements in reducing time-to-fill statistics and in finding more (and possibly more qualified) candidates by casting a much wider net. Through the use of social media, organizations may reduce training costs and increase self-directed employee development and continuous skill enhancement. Social media can also be used to reinforce organizational culture, or to change that culture through communication.

    Pros and Cons of Using Social Media

    As with most technologies, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and no single right way for an organization to use social media applications. The benefits and drawbacks of social networking platforms vary based on platform type, features, industry and the organization itself.

    Possible advantages

    Why should an organization have its own official presence on social media? Reasons include the following:

    Facilitates open communication, leading to enhanced information discovery and delivery.
    Allows employees to discuss ideas, post news, ask questions and share links.
    Provides an opportunity to widen business contacts.
    Targets a wide audience, making it a useful and effective recruitment tool.
    Improves business reputation and client base with minimal use of advertising.
    Promotes diversity and inclusion. See When Social Media Meets Diversity.
    Expands market research, implements marketing campaigns, delivers communications and directs interested people to specific websites.

    Possible disadvantages

    Despite the business pluses of these sites and tools, they also create issues of security and legal liability for employers, and still relatively little case law exists for organizations to turn to when weighing the risks. Use of social media at work—by employees for personal use or by the employer as an official tool—can open up organizations to the following:

    The possibility for hackers to commit fraud and launch spam and virus attacks.
    The risk of people falling prey to online scams that seem genuine, resulting in data or identity theft or a compromise of the company’s computer security.
    A potential outlet for negative comments from employees about the organization.
    Legal consequences if employees use these sites to view or distribute objectionable, illicit or offensive material.

    See What are the advantages and disadvantages of social networking sites? What should we include in a policy?

    Common Business Applications

    Social media can be powerful business tools, helping employers with everything from recruitment to employee engagement to communications.

    Below are some of the ways that employers are leveraging social media for maximum organizational benefit.

    Recruitment

    In the not-so-distant past, recruiters and staffing managers pored over resumes, posted vacancies on job boards and hosted expensive job fairs to find candidates. Now, the use of social media sites is pervasive in the recruitment function, with 84 percent of surveyed organizations using social media for recruitment. See Using Social Media for Talent Acquisition—Recruitment and Screening and Is Social Media Making Recruiters Complacent?

    Social media sites can be used for informal networking, mining for talent or simply posting openings. For example, employers can use social networking sites to post challenging technical questions and then contact respondents who provide the best answers.

    Recruiters can use relationship management tools to build and track relationships with passive job candidates who are not currently job-hunting. New recruiting applications designed for smartphones, tablets and other devices can let recruiters create better online searches or exchange information easily. Social media allow creation of specialty recruiting sites for specific industries. Employers are also using Twitter to announce employment opportunities to job seekers who subscribe to the company’s Twitter feeds. See Social Recruiting Goes Viral and Social Networking Websites Popular as Employer Recruiting Tool

    The use of social media in recruitment carries legal risks unique to the social media environment. For more about these risks, see the “Legal Issues” section below.

    Employee engagement

    Employees tend to feel more engaged in the workplace if they feel informed and if they believe their opinions are heard. Social media can give employers a way to spread the word as well as a way to channel employee comments.

    Some organizations use a corporate Facebook page to communicate new programs or policies to their employees. A key benefit is that employees can react to announcements immediately with comments or questions. Other employers use a corporate blog or video sharing to keep employees around the world engaged in regular meetings. Social media can be an excellent tool for quickly disseminating information on the state of the organization and have all employees feel involved, making them feel more connected and more a part of the organization and its mission. See Experts: Flexible Workplaces Should Rely on Social Media

    External communications

    Organizations can use social media to promote their brand. Many organizations have a digital presence on sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn or other industry-related sites. Leaders often have a presence on Twitter or a blogging site to broadcast important developments within the organization. Organizations use Yammer or other collaboration sites to link both internal groups and external sources such as vendors, clients or industry experts.

    Learning applications

    Social media are radically changing the way learning happens in organizations. Social media allow employers to embrace the younger generation’s need to collaborate and learn, which in turn will transform the workplace into an environment where people learn naturally with each other all the time, not just during a single training event. Social media allows for interacting with employees both before, during and after the actual training session. But organizations will need to change how they think about training and learning programs. Training models that focus on controlling the content and pushing information down to learners will not work in the collaborative environment of social media. See Social Media Can Enhance Employees’ Learning

    Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration

    Social media provide a great opportunity to leverage the deep and diverse expertise many organizations already possess. Rather than turn to outside consultants or third-party providers, companies can harness internal expertise with tools, including microblogging, wikis, YouTube-like repositories of learning videos, expert directories or communities of practice. See Group Learning.

    Internal discussion boards or social media spaces allow employees to collaborate and exchange ideas and experiences. These tools are also being used for self-service benefits enrollment, matching current employees to open positions and more.

    Some of the most innovative ways to foster collaboration across an enterprise include those listed below.

    Blogging

    In blogs, writers regularly post entries for public view, often on specific topics—or on behalf of a specific organization. Blogs for business can be aimed at attracting the attention of potential employees, promoting a brand or a company, or disseminating information out to customers, among other uses.

    Blogging can be external—reaching the public—or internal—to improve business processes. For example, Marsh Inc., a global risk management and insurance broker, uses blogs internally for training. When the company wanted to teach finance to one employee group, it did not enlist instructional designers or vendors to create or tailor traditional training courses. Marsh turned instead to its finance experts, who created a 27-part blog series that included both written content and videos created with flip cameras and screen-capture technology.

    Microblogging and microsharing

    These technologies allow users to exchange information in small snippets and in real time. Twitter is an example of a microblog, but today some organizations use other microblogging tools they can secure behind their computer firewalls and restrict to those inside the company. Employees can ask or answer questions, exchange information with peers, find out who has needed expertise and quickly give their input on projects. They can post their comments about documents, proposals or presentations. Yammer and Chatter are other examples of microblogging platforms designed for internal communication. Employers are also using microsharing programs to make these immediate communications part of everyday workflow, rather than using them as stand-alone tools. For example, Marsh uses the tool Socialtext in its budgeting process. The tool gives users a box at the bottom of a budgeting screen where they can make comments as they go through a document, and others can see those comments instantly. Managers across divisions can communicate in real time to ask questions and address their budgeting challenges.

    Expert directories

    Another social media tool—an expert directory—simplifies and improves the process of connecting subject matter experts to others within an organization. These directories can include information on experts’ specific competencies, current and past projects, and more. Creating a culture in which experts are willing to share their knowledge internally can be extraordinarily powerful.

    Similar benefits can be enjoyed by others through the use of existing public-domain networking sites or basic freeware such as Ning.

    Communities of practice

    To foster informal, employee-driven learning, employers have created communities of practice, groups where workers with similar expertise or interests can swap ideas and ask questions on internal forums.

    For instance, Accenture integrates its knowledge-sharing systems with thousands of communities of practice. Community members ask questions on discussion boards, contribute or download content on specific topics, and have content digests e-mailed to them.

    Employers need to realize that such communities change membership over time and that employee participation waxes and wanes. Also, not all of the comments shared by employees on discussion boards, blogs or wikis are factually accurate. Those overseeing social media networks have to walk a fine line between censoring content and ensuring that information is accurate.

    Video instruction

    The use of video has gained traction as an employee learning tool, fueled by the growth of smartphones with high-definition video and broadband networks. As a result, more organizations are creating YouTube-like repositories on enterprise networks where employees post videos created to share knowledge.

    Role of Human Resources

    HR may be tempted to leave social media matters to the organization’s information technology managers. But experts warn that the issues involved in social media use—privacy, confidentiality, appropriate communication styles, productivity and time management—are squarely in HR’s wheelhouse. Policies on appropriate use of these evolving media are HR’s responsibility.

    Working with IT, risk management specialists and marketing personnel, HR must structure policies to minimize risk to both the employer’s security and its reputation. At the same time, HR must help the employer leverage the use of social media for the organization’s benefit. HR is also typically responsible for enforcing social media policies. (HR professionals can keep up with changes to social media practices and policies by signing up for SHRM’s free Social Media E-Newsletter.) See SHRM Survey: HR Has Key Role in Corporate Social Media Efforts

    HR also generally takes primary responsibility for developing and promoting guidelines and training to ensure that employees understand the expectations about their use of social media, both at work and at home. Lessons for employees on social media etiquette, together with clear expectations from the employer, ensure that employees know how, when and where they can use social media. HR also takes the lead in developing appropriate internal documents to communicate policy requirements, changes and clarifications to a company’s employees.

    Potential Risks of Using Social Media

    The growing use of social media is not without risks. Employee use of these sites, whether for personal use or as an official part of the employer’s social media strategy, can open the door to certain liabilities.

    Exposing networks to attack

    Employees may not be aware of how their actions online could compromise organizational security. Visiting social networking sites at work can expose company networks to malware, including adware and spyware. Malware, or malicious software, is designed to take control of and damage a computer. It can help hackers steal identities and data.

    Organizations must educate employees about how a downloaded application or even a simple click on a received link can infect their computers and the network at large. Employers should also warn workers not to click on suspicious links and to pay careful attention when providing personal information online.

    Distributing confidential information

    A critical concern about social networking platforms is that they encourage people to share personal information. Even the most cautious and well-meaning people can give away information they should not; the same applies to what is posted on company-approved social networking platforms.

    Organizations that maintain an official Twitter feed or a corporate Facebook page want public recognition—in fact, the point is to attract followers. These employers keep, and often publicize, statistics about their numbers of followers and views. This dynamic is where the danger lies. In an attempt to be personal and provocative, employers that allow any employee to post on the company account also leave themselves open to problems—such as potential disclosure of confidential organization information, violation of employment policies or other rules, or public relations headaches. See Why You Need a Policy if Your Employees are Twittering.

    Creating tattletales

    Another issue for employers is the problem of employees tattling to managers about other employees’ personal posts on social media sites, especially when those items could get the poster in trouble at work. HR needs to anticipate this eventuality and have a procedure in place: Managers take no initial action, and HR checks the questionable posts first because the posts may be protected speech.

    Social Media Guidelines

    According to the 2011 SHRM social media survey, about 40 percent of organizations have a formal social media policy. The most frequently cited elements included in these policies were the following:

    A code of conduct for employee use of social networking environments for professional purposes (68 percent of organizations included this item in their policies).
    A code of conduct for employee use of social networking environments for personal purposes while at work (66 percent).
    Notification to employees that the organization has the right to monitor their social media use in the workplace (56 percent).
    Guidelines for social media communications (55 percent).
    Guidelines for responding to feedback on social networking environments (35 percent).

    Although a growing number of employers use social media, 43 percent of the respondents in the 2011 SHRM survey reported that their organizations block access to social media sites on company-owned computers and handheld electronic devices. The survey found that larger organizations (more than 500 employees) are more likely to block access to social media sites and to track employee use.

    Employers do have the right to prohibit any personal use of company computers, but such a prohibition is not likely to yield optimal results. If an employer decides to permit employees access to social networking platforms, then the employer needs a comprehensive and well-defined policy to prevent abuse.

    What a policy should cover

    An effective social networking policy generally does the following:

    Defines what the organization means when it refers to “social networking.”
    Establishes a clear and defined purpose for the policy.
    Communicates benefits of social networking and of having a policy.
    Provides a clear platform for educating employees.
    Takes into consideration any legal consequences of not following laws.
    Refers to proprietary and confidential information at risk.
    Talks about productivity in terms of social networking.
    Establishes expected behavioral norms in the use of social networking.
    Provides guidance regarding social networking that could be associated with the organization, employees or customers. Some employers may prohibit posting of company information on social networking sites without the employer’s explicit consent.
    Outlines disciplinary measures the employer will take if employees violate social media policy.

    See Social Media Acceptable-Use Policy and Social Media Policy.

    Social networking do’s and don’ts

    Specifically, comprehensive policies and training efforts about social media need to convey to employees that they should:

    Exercise good judgment and common sense.
    Pause before posting.
    Not allow social networking to interrupt productivity.
    Be mindful of their privacy settings.
    Refrain from anonymity.
    Be polite and responsible.
    Be accountable and correct mistakes.
    Use disclaimers or speak in the first person to make it clear the opinions expressed are not those of their employer.
    Bring work-related complaints directly to HR, not through postings on social media sites or the Internet.
    Remember the audience and that what is being said might create a perception about the employer.

    See Social Media Policies Slowly Catch on Worldwide.

    Legal Issues

    Social media are young, and case law about social media and employment is in its early days. Among the legal issues employers should watch are policy content, problems with using social media for recruitment and hiring, pitfalls of social media “friendings,” and questions about ownership of materials posted online.

    Policies and protected activity

    Any policy should be in the form of a guideline, not an absolute rule. If a guideline is made into a rule, the employer may possibly violate the National Labor Relations Act, which says employees have the right to engage in “protected concerted activity.” In a nutshell, when two or more employees discuss the terms and conditions of employment in a way that is designed or intended to effect change, they have the right to do that—and this protection applies to employee interactions through the use of social media too. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is actively shaping the legal framework of social media use by employees. In several cases, the NLRB found social media policies overbroad and unlawful because the policies discouraged protected concerted activity. According to the NLRB, the mere existence of an overly broad social media policy exposes the employer to an unfair labor practice charge even if no disciplinary action is taken against an employee.

    NLRB is building case law on social media and the workplace through its rulings on adverse actions involving employee use of social media use. Employers should become familiar with NLRB’s decisions. See NLRB Rejects Common Practices: What is HR to Do?

    Recruitment and hiring issues

    Employers must exercise caution when using social networks for recruiting or when viewing candidates’ personal social media profiles while in the recruiting or hiring processes. Social media can play a role in the screening process, but employers should consider when and how to use social media this way and weigh potential legal pitfalls:

    Access to protected information about candidates. When looking at candidates’ social media profiles, HR professionals may learn information they should not have when screening candidates. A candidate could claim that a potential employer did not offer a job because of information found on a social networking site, which discusses legally protected categories such as the candidate’s race, ethnicity, age, associations, family relationships or political views. To avoid problems, employers should ensure they do not use social media to screen applicants when deciding who gets an interview. They should also require that HR, not the hiring manager, conduct any social media reviews—and only during the background check of the finalist, when the HR professional already knows the finalist’s equal employment opportunity profile. See Widening Web of Social Media and Despite Legal Risks, Companies Still Use Social Media To Screen Employees.
    Possible violations of fair credit reporting law. The Fair Credit Reporting Act identifies background screening companies as “consumer reporting agencies” and outlines specific requirements for employers and screening agencies. Screeners must meet certain standards for accuracy of the information they use. Fulfilling that obligation can be challenging, given that content on social media sites can change at any time and is controlled by users.
    Negligent hiring claims. For example, if derogatory information about a workplace violence incident that could have foreshadowed the bad behavior were available on the perpetrator’s public social networking profile, the employer might be held liable for negligence in not using this information when the hiring decision was made.

    Risky “friendships”

    Online “friending” between managers and employees increases the chance—should a working relationship turn sour—of additional claims in any subsequent employment litigation. Managers will all too easily wind up with too much information if they have “friended” their employees, including (as with recruiting and hiring issues above) personal information that might fall within a protected category under federal or state employment laws. A fired or disciplined employee might later argue that the real reason for any adverse employment action was based on personal information that the manager learned by viewing the employee’s social media site.

    If managers and employees become each other’s contacts on professional sites such as LinkedIn, the online relationship can come back to bite the employer. For example, if a supervisor or manager writes an online recommendation for an employee and later fires that employee, the employee might be able to cite the online recommendation as evidence that he or she was not performing poorly. Employers need policies about recommendations or other comments managers may or may not make on such sites.

    Yet employers might be reluctant simply to prohibit managers from friending employees. Such a prohibition might itself be the target of legal challenges under laws guaranteeing the right of privacy and the right to associate, or under laws restricting employers from regulating lawful off-premises conduct.

    Password requests

    Growing risks and legal implications exist when employers ask applicants and employees for their passwords to social media sites. In 2012 Maryland became the first state to pass legislation to prohibit employers from requiring access to social media passwords.

    A 2015 Montana law prohibits employers from requiring employees to grant access to their social media accounts or to discipline them because of social media activity. See Montana Law Bars Employers from Employees Social Media Information.

    Ownership disputes

    Lawsuits over social media are on the rise as employers and former employees wrangle over who owns Twitter handles and followers, as well as LinkedIn connections and MySpace friends.

    In one case, a website sued an editor who left but took his Twitter followers with him; the site maintained that those followers belonged to the site, not to the individual editor. The followers were effectively a customer list generated when the editor worked for the site, the site’s lawyers argued. In another case, a former employee sued her employer for access to her LinkedIn account, which the employer cut off when she left the company because the account had been maintained for her by company staff.

    Organizations should ensure that social media policies say who owns those accounts and their followers and what happens to those accounts if an employee leaves.

    Metrics

    Measuring the results of social media is becoming a common practice. Common types of metrics tracked include:

    Visitors and sources of traffic.
    Network size (followers, fans, members).
    Quantity of commentary about brand or product.

    Monitoring data are only valuable if the organization is tracking and analyzing metrics relevant to it and then applying the information to improve its social media strategy. As part of their social media strategy, organizations should identify what important metrics to track. Undoubtedly, the range of metrics to consider will continue to evolve as social media use continues to expand.

    Limits to Sustainable Social Media Strategies

    To sustain and maximize business uses of social media, having the right technologies is only one part of the equation. Even the most user-friendly and feature-rich tools will not overcome a culture in which employees are discouraged by managers—overtly or subtly—from using social tools for fear of taking time away from “real” work.

    Another impediment to business use of these media is failure to assign skilled talent to manage and cultivate the organization’s own participation on social networks. Employers need to have “social media champions” to collect the most relevant content, draw attention to it, keep conversations going and reward people who are the most active in sharing their knowledge with others.

    A sustainable social media strategy requires both a culture that encourages knowledge sharing and a team with a wide array of competencies dedicated to managing and promoting these potentially powerful social media initiatives. Without this focus, organizations can quickly lose traction as busy employees find little time or reason to use these collaborative tools amid the demands of daily work.

    Templates and Tools

    Samples

    Social Media Policy

    Social Computing Guidelines

    Information tools

    SHRM Survey Findings: Using Social Media for Talent Acquisition— – Recruitment and Screening

    SHRM Social Media in the Workplace Survey Findings

    SHRM Webinar: How to Socialize your Talent Hiring Process: Use of Social Media and Mobile Platforms to Attract Talent

    SHRM Bookstore

    A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn

    30 Days to Social Media Success: The 30-Day Results Guide to Making the Most of Twitter, Blogging, LinkedIn, and Facebook

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