"CEOs can't wait to read Sunny Bindra's articles every week."

Should your staff be allowed to use Facebook and Twitter at work?

“Late last year I was at a dinner with a Board I won’t mention by name. There were roughly 50 people at the event. Tables were pre-assigned and I found myself sitting across from a chap in his mid-50′s whose professional job was an accountant. He worked at a rather large firm as a partner.
…Somehow, the chatter gravitated to Facebook. Our accountant friend chimed in and said, “The partners and I decided this year to ban Facebook. It’s a distraction and too much of a time waster for our associates.””

DAN PONTEFRACT www.danpontefract.com (16 January, 2013)

Dan Pontefract is an author and blogger, one of the many headlining the move to a brave new world of business.

The excerpt from his recent blog post captures a conversation many of us are having these days. This social media thing: is it something employees should be allowed to do at work?

The instinctive default answer is, of course, no. Most business owners and leaders would answer like this: “Facebook at work? No way. Work is for work, not exchanging dumb greetings with your cousins in Australia. Do I allow employees to be visited by their rural relatives? I need to get maximum benefit from what I pay these people. We are a professional company, and we can’t all be Twittering or Friending or whatever, when we’re supposed to be working. Let them do that stuff on their own time.”

Did you find yourself agreeing? Some further questions, then:

First, what else do you ban your employees from doing? Personal visitors and calls? Long lunch breaks? Smoking time? Hanging around the coffee machine too much? And how is that working for you?

Second: Is there nothing you want from social media as a business? Are you really asleep on the huge potential this new way of communicating has for your branding, your marketing, your customer care – and even your internal collaboration?

Third: how exactly will you implement this social media ban? By firewalling your network? Are your staff also banned from using smartphones? Do you collect them at the door, and do you block social media sites on them, too?

Fourth: what exactly is your business model? Are you employing automatons who do as they’re told, ask no questions, have no other life, are obedient at all times? Perhaps then you should ban social media…but why would you need to? Your people sound brain-dead anyway.

Are the clouds parting? I hope so. We have left the world of command-and-control business behind, but some are still refusing to vacate the past and enter the present. If you want to employ the human equivalent of unmanned drones, good luck. The rest of us are looking at social platforms to understand how best to utilize their power and functionality.

In Dan’s words: “Don’t do it. Wake up. Invite yourself to the 21st century. Enjoy this phenomenon called collaboration.”

Consider this: if you allow social media into the company tomorrow, will all your employees immediately shirk off and tweet away all their hours, and leave their work undone? If so, what kind of people have you employed, and what kind of leadership are you displaying, if only banning things gets work done?

Are your customers on Facebook? Are your children on Twitter? Are your future employees on Linked-In? Are your family members sending you snaps on Instagram? Of course they are. So why would you stay off, and force others to stay off? Embrace this thing, open it up, understand it, use it. Set some rules and norms and policies, by all means, but don’t do the banning thing. Some people ban books, too…

Work norms are changing fast. Don’t lock yourself out.

Even if you still hate the idea, you’ll be giving in soon anyway. Archive that.

Share This
Like it? Hate it? Engage here
  • “Fourth: what exactly is your business model? Are you employing automatons who do as they’re told, ask no questions, have no other life, are obedient at all times?” says it all; Old world vs New world.

    The very fact that social networking has become so popular in such a short time is a strong indication that people want/need it – we are after all social beings; How a business owner cannot see this as an opportunity is beyond me. Not understanding a need does not automatically invalidate it.

    There is no doubt that there will be some time wasted on these platforms during working hours but no more so than that spent in meetings, the smoking area or around the water-cooler, as you mention above. The only difference is that the interaction staff have on these platforms can be leveraged to the advantage of the business.

    As any parent will attest to, attempting to prevent a child from doing something only makes it more appealing and they somehow find a way to do it anyway; So it is with people in general – if there isn’t a good enough reason to not do something no measures will prevent it from going on.

    If however it it made part of day to day business then there is a greater chance of controlling it, positively, with the consent of staff.

    • Chandesh:

      All of that is spot on. But the realization is painfully slow for so many…

  • That is like asking if you should allow employees to use their telephones at work. The quicker companies start realising that social networks are just another communication channel with their market, the better. what they should do is encourage the use of social networks but manage use the same way as they do with telephones. If they do not allow it on their intranet, then employees will use their smartphones. It is time to embrace change, identify the positive side and explot it accordingly

    • David:

      Seems so obvious, doesn’t it? Yet, as we both know, the dinosaurs of the corporate world find the thought of their staff on social media deeply disturbing….

      • We are going through transition. The dinosaurs will learn to comply or will bear the brunt of their actions. Education is sorely lacking and perception doesn’t help either. If social networking was introduced to companies first and then spilled over into the general population, things will most probably be somewhat different.

        • David:

          That’s a great insight about perception and how it was all introduced…hmm! Got me thinking.

        • David:

          Corporations in our part of the world are laggards. And they are basically followers. We are a nation-wide mass service commercial bank. My employer was using Windows 2000 in 2010! We are now on Windows XP SP2 for all our core services, which I expect to be used for five more years… It is quite a hamstring, for anyone – banker, social trendster – working on Windows 8 at home, to walk into their office and do some ‘production’ on XP. Our old-style business leaders are waiting to see. They are just too risk averse – dismissive of the fact that by the time a technology wins global acceptance, by the time it attracts 500 million users, it must be doing something quite right.

          Here, they keep waiting for European and American low-level businesses to consistently praise social media platforms, to start sending them tweets and facebook posts on their unexplored, underutilized ‘call-box’ blackberries, before they adopt these technologies.

          As Sunny says succinctly, it is just a matter of time. First movers will always lead. The followers will do what they do best, follow their employees and everyone else into the cybersphere.

          Workers stay because of the excessive unemployment out there: otherwise, some of these businesses would be museum footnotes.

  • I always tell people that if an employee wants to find a way to NOT work, they will whether a company bans Social Media or not.

    Solitaire anyone?

    I am all about what you said here: If so, what kind of people have you employed, and what kind of leadership are you displaying, if only banning things gets work done?

    • Ciiku:

      That’s exactly the point. If staff are just looking for an opportunity to waste time, the problem is with your workplace, not with the opportunities they have…

  • Thanks for the insight. In our business we use Social media on a daily basis, 80% of our customers have an account on at least one of the social media platforms. In our customer service application we can do immediate background checks on social media in combination with Google Streetview. This gives us a lot of background ground information about our customers. Now this of course requires that our sales and customer service staff have access. We also encourage staff members to be active on Facebook and Linkedin and to help to promote the company. Every time they give a “like” to an item on our company page that will also be seen by their private connections. Last but not least we expect all staff members to keep them self informed about industry and general developments by reading blogs, newspapers, group messages etc. This is actually a huge step forward especially in a country like Kenya. Information and eduction is now available to anyone and mostly for free. This cannot be appreciated enough.

    • Eugene:

      You’re a forward-thinking employer, good to see.

      Everyone else will also get there, but the laggards will take time.

  • The Mad Paddler

    For the first time in a long time I find myself completely disagreeing with you Sunny. Let us look at a different business model, say a hospital.What is the benefit of giving a nurse access to facebook during work hours?

    I’ll tell you what – there will be some who will take the mickey and it’ll force others to pick up an extra work load, or the undone jobs will be shoved on to the next shift with the excuse, “Ohh.. Sorry, I was too busy to change the dressings on Mr Doe’s foot…Do you mind doing it?”

    How about those whose jobs are reactive – let us take a fireman for example. I can imagine him arriving late on the scene:…”Oops sorry I am late – I wasn’t watching the monitors and alarms because I was tweeting the fact my dog has ringworms…”

    Bottom line: There are specific business models that may benefit by allowing its employees access to social media – but these are extremely limited. And many employees would not want to draw the distinction between what is social, what is domestic, what is pleasure and what business. End of.

    • Adam

      I would respectfully differ, I think the mistake we make is to always assume that we understand every possible way of utilizing technology (or in this case the social media) to facilitate a more pleasurable customer experience. Once we begin to broaden our lens and understand that facebook and twitter (and other social media platforms) provide means of serving multiple ends (rather than just the particular end for which it was originally created), certain applications of these tools (which is what they essentially are) become more digestible among corporates and other organizations. What those ends are will always evolve with mankind’s ability to seek various ways of dealing with inconveniences and problems. Some reflection on the evolution of the internet and the multiple ends that are served today are somewhat mind boggling when one considers that it was just initially useful for viewing webpages (or at least we thought that) until email came along (and facilitated communication), then e-business came along (and revolutionized business as we know it) by opening a whole space that was heretofore thought unthinkable, …you get my point.

      Take your hospital example, I don’t think we’d surprised to learn that not everyone in a hospital is either a nurse or a doctor, there is an administrative staff after all that liaises with their customers (patients), suppliers, partners, owners, fund raisers and so on. At some point in time, hospitals did not have telephones, but I’m sure you’d find it ridiculous to see one today without it. Similarly, social media platforms like facebook or twitter, easily provide a more hassle-free means of communicating and transacting with your customers i.e. booking your appointments, finding out if your doctor is available or not, test results, renewing prescriptions and so on. A facebook account or twitter account need not be different from a postal code or telephone number if the end sought is the same. It’s all a matter of perspectives.

      I think the reason why the internet age (or social media age, whatever you prefer) raises more questions and doubts and sceptism of the part of others is, unlike the machine age where in the products’ uses were understood and defined and their ends pretty much known), the internet’s uses are open-ended and can pretty much serve as many ends as its users are creative enough to develop. These platforms are just another option on the menu of lifes’ enriching tools. They are useless in the hands of some and useful beyond comprehension in the hands of others.

      • Adam

        Forgot to address my comments above to the Mad Paddler, oops! apologies…

      • Adam:

        Absolutely right. We can’t fixate on the ‘trivial’ part of social media and ignore the huge cost savings and collaborative benefits of doing our work through the new platforms.

        Also, that person sitting there NOT using banned social media: if that person is unhappy at work, do we imagine (s)he is productive because (s)he’s not on Facebook? Is that the only problem here?

    • Dear Paddler (or do you prefer Dear Mad (:))

      Happy to have you disagree! We grow stronger through challenge.

      Let’s look at your argument. So you’re saying there are nurses and firemen JUST WAITING for the opportunity to access social media at work and then start shirking their duties and letting people die…

      OK, if that’s true, what’s wrong there? What kind of people selection and development is in process, that most staff are JUST WAITING for a chance to shirk off?

      Is the problem then solved by banning social media? Will this unmotivated nurse/fireman now do a good job, simply because Facebook is disabled?

      The quick, simple, knee-jerk method is to ban things and enforce imagined discipline. Can you police minds? And do you really think they’re not on social media anyway?

      This reveals a deeper problem with the way we manage and motivate people, and I would respectfully suggest THAT is the way to approach the situation. We need nurses/firemen who enjoy their work, find purpose in it, want to do it to a high standard. People like that aren’t going to fritter their time away exchanging salaams all day – they have a mission to get on with.

      The challenge is to develop more people with the right mindsets, not to deploy artificial bans that curtail our humanity.

    • Actually, nurses on facebook* and twitter are more likely to be effective than ineffective. With a twitter account, customers (patients and their relatives will easily note and complain about distracted nurses; doctors who are just present but not serving, etc. And customer feedback is always about comparison. In the end, it is more useful to have workers in the line of fire – and options to learn how others work elsewhere… than cloistered, unaware of real-time customer perceptions.

      The fireman will know within a minute, that there is a fire outbreak – and the message will reach as many people as do follow that account within seconds. That keeps everyone engaged, and could even support community-wide fire management.

      The positives exceed negatives.

    • @The Mad Peddler,
      How many doctors do you see prevented from attending to their patients, or firemen unable to get to a scene because they’re reading a newspaper or speaking on a landline phone or on a mobile phone texting or emailing or surfing?
      Such reactive services would, one hopes, be manned by conscientious people who would not be distracted from their duties by media of any form when lives are on the line.

  • Robin

    I’m one of the anti-facebook dinosaurs and I’m sticking to my guns.

    Firstly, you seem to believe there are only two kinds of employees, the hard workers and the slackers, and hIring the good guys means they will never abuse social media. But people are more complicated. Even your good people get lazy sometimes and waste time doing unproductive things. Who hasn’t spent time goofing off on the Internet and then remembers that important email/phone call they were supposed to deal with? It’s human nature. The question for companies is, should they be providing the extra distractions that prevent you getting your work done?

    I have no issue with companies having a presence on Facebook or twitter, with a team set up to engage with customers, etc. This team can share ideas with the rest of your staff to see how best to maximize your online presence. But unlimited Facebook for all, on company time? No way. I’m still waiting to see any firm where this has contributed directly to better customer service or higher sales.

    • Robin:

      Actually, no, there’s only one type of employee: the human being. Full of complications and distractions. That’s every one of us.

      Let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting in the slightest we give a computer, a connection and a Facebook account to every employee and say boom! Off you go…

      Of course workplaces have rules and norms and disciplines. We don’t tell employees to dress as they like, come in when they like, say what they like to the public. We ask employees to honour the norms of the organization and reflect the company’s brand.

      So why would social media be any different? Why do you perceive it to be such a danger, as though we would be opening a casino at work? Can it not fit into other workplace norms, and would employees who overdo it not face a tough appraisal, just as they would if they physically didn’t show up repeatedly for their duties? Would a sensible employee not know how to find a balance?

      I just don’t see the point of not allowing the WHOLE person to come to work, and reducing the workplace to a gathering of automatons who are there just to work and leave their humanity outside the door. Most of the time at work, we need to concentrate deeply – this is true. Let’s design work norms that allow us all to bring our best to our work.

    • @Robin,

      As with other workplace behaviour a good, solid and fair social media usage policy mitigates against this.

  • Ken

    I work for one of the giant corporations in Kenya. I have advocated for this issue for more than 4 years, but the resistance I get is appalling. More than 40% of our customers interact with the company via social media platform, yet employees aren’t allowed to use any of these platforms. It is saddening to see management which won’t accept that we have to change to stay relevant.

    • Ken:

      I’m hopeful this article, and my various talks on the subject, might dislodge a few objections…you keep that drum beating. Eventually the rock crumbles!

  • Indeed. We need to learn a new language and way of doing things. Human beings are by nature social beings. Business needs to embrace the ethos of a ‘Social Business’ and reap the benefits. Already organisations like IBM embrace this new social landscape by embedding social into its operational model. Businesses that do not embrace this new landscape will go the way of the dinosaur.

  • The Mad Paddler

    Let me provide a few examples from my own small, tunnel-visioned world. Firstly I work in the public sector in The United Kingdom. My organisation does not allow facebook or twats or even private e-mail – and with good reason. The organisational structure follows a bureaucratic framework, and each person has a specific, highly skilled role to play. For example, nurses and doctors do not interact with ‘the general public’. They interact with patients. There is a specific team set up to interact with the public, deal with the twatters, issue press statements, address queries from politicians etc. That team is called The Information Governance Team. Also, there are clear systems (including sophisticated IT systems) in place to monitor performance, book appointments, avail results to patients, share professional opinions and experiences, etc etc. I have no qualms if a limited number of those systems could inteface FB & Tweeter: they could pick up strands of info that could improve organisational performance. However, there is no place in that environment for individuals’ social media; and our IT system blocks access to such sites. I contrast this to my visit to the local water office in Meru Town in Kenya. I was coerced into this visit by a 3 month delay in a water connection I had paid for at my father’s house. To my amazement, three of the four employees in the office were busy on their yahoo e-mail accounts… and it was 09:00 am in the morning. Just putting two and two together – is it possible that if these employees did their job right; and the engineers (who must have been on an early morning tea-break while tweeting away) concentrated on their jobs, my connection would have been done in a shorter time?
    I remember one of those employees looking me up and down as if I was a beggar, or fly that needed squashing: how dare I interrupt her early morning chat (maybe with her b/f?)

    Anyway, as I pointed out earlier, there are specific business models (and employee roles) that would benefit from social media. But a blanket generalisation will not do.

    • @The Mad Paddler,

      But those employees in the water office would have found something else to help them procrastinate anyway – ban every form of media from that office and you’ll probably find said employees with their heads down taking a nap! Distractions only become so as a symptom of a deeper issue, usually dissatisfaction.

    • Paddler:

      Some questions for you:

      Did you write your replies above during work hours?

      You don’t use social media at all – do you?

      So merely allowing those nurses to use social media will lead to them neglecting patients…really? What’s wrong with them? Do they have no higher calling, no sense of duty? Are they really like children that you have to keep the ‘sweets’ away from them?

      Those staff in Meru: do you honestly think their problem is social media? That they would get back to work wholeheartedly if the Internet was cut off?

  • The Mad Paddler

    @ Sunny: Sorry I forgot to add: Yes, I do paddle my canoe madly – and not just at work – to get away from the proverbial creek!

    There is a reason why we ensure the whole person does not come to work: There is barely enough time to clear that person’s c**p. And the process is painfully cumbersome. If I had to chose between (1) Banning social media, and (2) Having to drag someone through the appraisal system, invoke capability proceedings against them, exchange blows with that person’s Union, and two years later (just when I have the green light from Human Resources to instigate summary dismissal) get the employees resignation letter…… I’ll take option (1) on any day.


    • Paddler:

      Again, you really do seem to be working with sub-adults who will behave very badly and negligently if temptation is put their way. I’d suggest that’s a WAY bigger problem than whether they can access Facebook or not. And it has very different roots – in the style of leadership.

  • Naomi

    I am a “dinosour” with an open mind and believe in change. We have to acknowledge that Generation Y is the Digital Generation of our time. It is all about output (quality and quantity) and not the time you spend at the office. I thus believe that there is a place for social media in the workplace. Even if it is only during lunch breaks.

    • @Naomi,

      Exactly. We can play Canute all we like but the change is happening now. A fair social media usage policy helps both parties understand what can be done and when. A total ban only serves to impact negativity on morale which ends up hurting the business.

  • The Mad Paddler

    Ignoring any hints of sarcasm…

    Q: Did you write your replies above during work hours?

    A: No. As explained, social media sites are filtered by our IT systems (Thank goodness!)

    Q: You don’t use social media at all – do you?

    A: I do. And for me, the key word is “Social”. It has its time and place in society – but not in SOME work environments.

    Q: So merely allowing those nurses to use social media will lead to them neglecting patients…really? What’s wrong with them? Do they have no higher calling, no sense of duty? Are they really like children that you have to keep the ‘sweets’ away from them?

    A: (1) Yes, (2) I don’t know, (3) No and and (4) Yes. It doesn’t apply to all staff – but some really take the mickey. They have absolutely no initiative, no drive and need to be herded around like cows. As far as initiative and drive go, I have actually grouped employees into two distinct categories. There are those who, if given 5 spare minutes, will do that little extra pending filing, or will go on the internet to research up some new type of medication/ treatment that a patient (or colleague) may have mentioned but they are unfamiliar with. Then there are those who will always report back to duty 10 minutes late from their lunch break, and have their coats on and ready-to-leave 15 minutes before their shift is up… and guess who has to pick up after the latter? I repeat: Their colleagues and the next shift.

    You would not me asking me these if you have spent time on the front line of public service either delivering or receiving some.. I can safely say, that in the six (public) organisations I have worked in, there will be at least one colleague whose sole mission is to drive you up the wall. And you can either dedicate your life’s work to bringing them into line (or getting rid of them), or you can choose to limit their damage and get the other myriad of tasks done.

    There is an distinctive point which seems that many of the respondents here have missed: Either social media can be used for work purposes, or social media can be used for social purposes. The former is already in practice in PRIMARY Health Care. For example diabetics can purchase a new insulin/ sugar testing kit which automatically posts results and updates charts of one’s test results onto specific social media web pages. This allows a ‘community’ to develop, share ideas (e.g. discuss what foods to avoid) and improve their general well-being. This may (and I say this hesitantly) include input from GPs.

    However, when that patient enters the Secondary Healthcare system, he or she becomes part of a production system. This system is far too constrained to to have any resources to fluff around with those social media communities and contribute to their debates. The production line is quite clear: The patient has been referred in by a specialist. the treatment options are considered, if necessary one is scheduled for surgery, and soon after you are on your way out… period

    The second use of social media (i.e. social – which is what I am against) would be a drain on an already constrained system)

    The sweets argument hold no water. If you were to extend that thought, where do you draw the line? Why do we not allow colleagues to bring in their Playstations and Wii games then? After all, does it not contribute to the “whole” person?

    Q:Those staff in Meru: do you honestly think their problem is social media? That they would get back to work wholeheartedly if the Internet was cut off?

    A: I think that is one of the tools in a wide kit that needs to be applied to turn around organisational culture in such places.

  • Great article. It is thought provocative.