Social Media, Work and 700 friends on Facebook...

This week has been a social media week for me. Now I’m not a natural social media person but nor am I complete social media dunce...I like to think I sit somewhere in the middle. For instance I use facebook and thanks to my smart phone, I probably check it more than I should – Mark Zuckerberg has really gotten a grip of me. I’m also reasonably well versed on Linkedin and as you can see from this blog, I’m now getting into blogging. I’ve also been getting some help from the very knowledgeable blogger, Sam McFarlane from Edinburgh Napier’s Bright Red Triangle.
If I’m honest I’ll never be as technically hot on social media as Sam. What interests me more than the technical aspect of using Social Media, is the implications it has for work and how people work.
So yesterday, I met an interesting social media professional, Jason King and Iater that day, I also attended the CIPD employment Law Update presented by Toni McAlindin a well known Employment Barrister. Two very different people, but there was a common theme and that was social media. Both people came at it from different angles, Jason from a marketing perspective and Toni from an employment law one.
What I sensed at the CIPD conference however, and with greatest respect to the speaker, was a lack of awareness about how people are using social media, particularly around Facebook. Certainly when I chatted with a middle aged (I’m sorry but I think the middle aged part is relevant albeit in a generalising sort of way...) HR person afterwards, she lamented “why are people so careless on social media?”
In my part time teaching capacity at the university, I recently asked 2nd year undergraduate students how many friends they have on Facebook (It’s not a question of if they’re on the facebook!). The answers which came back were numbers in the mid to high hundreds and even above a thousand!  That’s right, they are connected with a 1000 plus people – what a network! Most of these students are 19 so they have quite literally grown up with social media, firstly Bebo and now Facebook. They’ve gone through their teenage years on facebook and quite simply, having 700 friends plus isn’t about being careless - it’s how they live their lives. On many issues they simply appear to be much more open and in a way which would scare people a generation or two older. Many HR types fret about the wrongs of Facebook, the legal risks and the importance of ‘educating’ people to be more aware so as to control it. Some businesses will also try to ignore Facebook and hope it goes away.
However social media is about much, much more than employment law. A Communication professional I know talks about using employees as ‘brand ambassadors’ i.e. in a way which promotes the company. This throws up a number of key issues. A policy is certainly important but your HR policy must tie in with your communication strategy and if you’re taking it to the next level, your employer brand (I mean if someone has 1000 contacts shouldn’t you be trying to tap into that as a business!?). Above all, it should be realistic and empowering - you’re not going to stop people from using social media! My feeling is social media is evolving very quickly and we don’t quite know the implications for work, particularly with generation ‘Y’ (which includes the group of students I mentioned earlier) so it is an issue to keep abreast of. I think businesses will need to accept social media, work with it and embrace it. Crucially, the old management philosophy of command and control will not work with social media where everyone is the commander and no one is the controller!

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