Social networking websites are a great way to market your business, a great resource to look into the lives of potential employees and they are also a great way for your employees to stay connected, not only with each other but also with others. The question, though, is whether this is a good or useful thing for your employees to be doing. They are, after all, opening a window into their private lives that would otherwise likely remain firmly shut. There are a lot of advantages to it, of course; also many disadvantages.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Employee Social Networking
There are some real advantages if your employees maintain fairly professional profiles on these sites. Bear in mind, that only LinkedIn requires users to only post professional material. With everything else, you really do open the door to all sorts of things.
However, assuming that the content is reasonably professional, your employees can use these sites and their connection within the company to further communications with their colleagues as well as to augment their professional networks. By doing this, they can stay on top of things that are happening within their profession, learn from others and generally improve their position both in your company and as an individual.
On the other hand, since these sites are, indeed, a window into the user’s personal life, public and professional embarrassment becomes a real possibility. People tend to maintain a barrier between their professional and personal lives for a reason. There are things about each of us that we really don’t need our coworkers knowing, whether that involves emotional issues, religious ideas, sexual things—whatever—the person you need to work with day in and day out just does not need to know about it. Take, for example, blog entries, or comments on such entries. These will be up for as long as you have a profile on that site and anyone who accesses your profile will see them, read them, and judge the writer accordingly.
Then there are photographs. You know, that one from that Christmas party two years ago where you thought it somehow acceptable to get on the bar and do the Charleston until the alcohol got the better of you, forcing you to hurl the fine Italian meal the boss bought all over your now former coworkers. Pictures where you are having a good time—or doing something monumentally stupid—can be a real nuisance on these websites, especially when your “friends” can tag a user in a photo, which almost ensures that the Charleston Episode will be discovered by someone to whom you would rather not have to explain that particular slice of life.
The best way to solve a problem is to eliminate that problem right from the start. In this case, that means either cleaning up your social networking accounts so that there is nothing there for your coworkers to discover—and nothing you might be called upon to explain—or you maintain a single account, on LinkedIn, for example, that you will only use for professional contacts.
The latter suggestion, establishing that dedicated account, is a safer bet and if your employees are connecting with one another, it’s a practice you would do well to encourage. Consider, for example, setting up a company page on a given site and having everyone develop a profile on that site and link to it. It is a clean slate, with nothing for them to erase, and nothing for them to forget to erase. Moreover, doing it this way keeps the boundary between the personal and the professional intact and functional and that can only make things easier in your workplace.