Social Networkers Survey Reveals Problems, Promise

A woman who hijacked her company’s Twitter account and broadcast a “blow-by-blow” 140-character narrative of mass firings was summarily sacked. But while the misuse of social media cost the woman her job, her employer — a major European media company — gained 10,000 Twitter followers from the incident, and she says new job offers started pouring in to her through her social media connections.

Certainly her commandeering of the company Twitter account would be considered unethical by virtually any standard. Yet there was some good to come out of it, with the company scoring some coveted followers and maybe even better job prospects for the erstwhile tweeter.

This example shows how difficult it can be to capture and articulate the relationships between social media, employees, and employers, but that’s exactly what the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) set out to do with its 2013 National Business Ethics Survey of Social Networkers — the first ever of its kind.

Social media tentacles stretch far

When the ERC posed its first survey questions about social media back in 2011, it found that some three quarters of all workers belonged to one or more social networking sites or services. The figure is probably even higher today. And, counter to what some may think, social networking isn’t just a phenomenon of the young: 72 percent of workers more than 30 years old say they’re involved, too.

However, and this will be important throughout our look at the survey results, Active Social Networkers (ASNs) — those who spend at least 30 percent of their time linked to social media — skew much more heavily toward younger workers. While workers less than 30 years old represent just 25 percent of the workforce, they make up 47 percent of the ASNs. Further, among the ASNs, 28 percent say they are actively involved in social networking for an hour or more each day at work and very little of that time is related to work. Clearly, businesses are increasingly paying employees for their personal social media interactions.

Here’s one more important fact about ASNs: Only 29 percent work in non-management positions; most are from first line management (20 percent), middle management (40 percent), and top management (11 percent).

The risks of social networking

Most social networking activity is “passive” in nature, e.g. looking through pictures posted by friends or reading Twitter posts. However, there is a sub-group the survey identifies as “posters” or “creators,” and they — like the woman who tweeted her company’s firings — often “air company linen in public.” Among the ASNs:

  • 60 percent would comment on their companies if they are in the news
  • 53 percent say they share information on work projects at least once a week
  • More than a third say they talk about clients, coworkers, and managers on their personal sites, which adds yet another wrinkle to the problem

With social media, what happens in the workplace doesn’t stay in the workplace, and it can travel much further much faster than in the days when most workplace gripes were aired across the fence to neighbors or over drinks at happy hour. Even worse, sometimes “creators” can turn an issue or dispute into a “cause” that others will rally behind, as we saw with the woman who tweeted her company’s layoffs. The report concludes that management must work under the assumption that anything that happens as work — new policies, product development projects, office problems — could become public at any moment.

According to the survey, ASNs are markedly more vulnerable to ethics risks. They report that they witness more misconduct and are subject to more retaliation when they report the misconduct than their coworkers who are less active on social networks. Fifty-six percent of ASNs who reported misconduct that they witnessed said they were retaliated against, compared to only 18 percent of other employee groups.

Embracing the social media

The 2013 National Business Ethics Survey of Social Networkers is subtitled “New Risks and Opportunities at Work.” Not only does social networking create a wide range of dangers to businesses and organizations, it seems to hold a good measure of upside potential as well, and management should embrace that side of social media. As one might expect, ASNs are encouraging their employers to get involved with social networking in a big way. Business can leverage social networking to its advantage, and many ASNs say they would be willing to use their social media presence to advocate for their employers.

Of course, many already take advantage of the social media to communicate about their products and services directly to consumers. It is proving to be a good way to build brand recognition and create positive customer relationships. However, the report says businesses can also use the social media to internally reinforce workplace ethics, communicate company values, and therefore build employee loyalty.

ASNs believe that social media can be used to educate and inform workers on ethics issues, but think that so far their employers are mostly missing the opportunities. The survey reveals that less than half of all companies are using the social media to help top management communicate company values, build trust in leadership, or inform employees on ethical issues typical of their workplaces.

Taking control

Although social media is constantly evolving, the ERC believes that the risks are manageable and identifies four steps companies should take to establish control over social media issues in the workplace:

  1. Develop social networking policies and strategies that are based on ethics and values, not just compliance, so employees will know what to do and how to behave as the media continue to evolve. Also, be sure that social networking governance is tied to the company’s overall mission and ethics culture.
  2. Put in place a social networking policy as soon as possible and reinforce it with training and be sure supervisors are modeling the behavior they expect from employees. Further, the policy needs to be realistic; otherwise, employees will be inclined to ignore it.
  3. Use social networking to enhance both internal and external communication. Use it to reinforce the company’s ethics culture with employees.
  4. Get social networkers involved in shaping the company’s policy and help use social networking to get other employees more involved.

While it’s easy to peg the woman who tweeted the firings that occurred in her company as having crossed the line, the situations are not always that clear. One might view engaging in social media as an innocent diversion, an annoying distraction or outright misconduct.

Related Posts

Enter your keyword