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SOCIAL MEDIA: Social Media in the Workplace – What You Do On and Off the Field Matters


My high school football coach had a mantra: “You represent this school and this football team both on and off the field.” The idea was that your conduct and behavior symbolized the attitude and behavior of the team as a whole. Your poor decisions to go down to the party on Friday or mouth off to a teacher in the classroom were equally as bad, equally as frowned upon as spiking someone in the back on the football field. Recently, my home town passed a code of conduct for all athletes that extends beyond the season the sport is played. What you do in the winter seasons or in summer seasons will now equally affect your fall season sports and visa versa – across the board, you will be held accountable for your behavior both on and off the field throughout the year!

Where am I going with this? Currently, there is a lot of discussion about allowing social media into the workplace. Employers see the power and attraction of it and yet are hesitant because with these new public forums comes painstaking reprimands and firings for an employee’s “public display of inaffection” – what I have labeled as Gen Y’s public tendency to stress what they don’t like through their posting, voting, and discussing online.

Just a couple weeks ago a Beverly Hills waiter was fired for his Twitter post. According to news sources, the waiter served Hung actress Jane Adams. The actress said she was going to her car to get her checkbook, but instead sent her agent the next day with payment for lunch – minus the tip. The waiter twittered about the incident. The tweet went out to millions. News organizations and fans picked up the tweet. The actress came back and complained to management about defamation of character – the waiter was fired.

This real scenario is only one of many new incidents where employees are being held accountable for their social media behavior both on and off the clock. Preparing for this post, the NDC office had a lively discussion about the philosophy behind these new standards (or lack of standards). What is the difference between talking about a bad tipper on Twitter or Facebook and talking about a bad tipper with a group of friends? When did each employee’s actions become a “public display of inaffection?”  Where and when does representing your company or organization start and stop? Michael brought up a good point: discussing a bad tipper with a group of friends is different than painting a sign and sitting on the corner publicizing your dislike for your boss, your company, or your patrons. Twitter (and other social media where profiles are public) is the new sign and street corner – just a much bigger sign and bigger street corner. What you do on and off the field is a representation of your business, your organization – even you.

I have good data that suggests I am preaching to much of the choir on this one. The older generation are not yet on most of these public tools or at most, just getting started. For many of you, you’re probably on the other side of the table, more coaching (and at times reprimanding) the new Gen Yers fresh out of college who, for the most part, are simply unaware of the organizational norms and procedures of “professional life.” Rather than prohibiting or ignoring the use of these powerful new media, we’d like to offer some of our quick tips that might help you steer the social media whiz kid from making an ill-fated tweet or post:

1. Give employees a brief written policy about company expectation around social media (this could mimic the company’s already existing e-mail and internet communications policy). This will set the tone and expectations for the Gen Yers, who by their very generational nature, do not rebel against authority and appreciate guidance and clarity when they are explained well.

2. Any identification of the author on any of the social media sites should not be accompanied by the company’s logo, trademarks or intellectual property unless given permission. If the employee is not providing an official message from the company, the employee must include “these are my own views and not those of the company.”

3. Employees should not disclose any confidential information of the company (What is confidential information? Ask the employee “would you paint the information on a sign and sit on the corner of a street with it?”).

4. The important (and tricky) part about this subject is the need for an equal dichotomy between restriction and social media freedom – both for the individual and the company as a whole. Here is why: 62% of Gen Y currently access social networks while at work! Instead of administering a prohibition-like doctrine (something the new worker will quickly see as the stifling of creativity), allow them concentrated access to the new media. This new generation can and will be your company’s “banner carriers” if you allow them – they will do for your company in one hour what would take your marketing department two weeks to accomplish – they will build your brand tweet-by-bloody-tweet if you allow them. However, there should be ample amounts of guidance, clarity and procedures to protect both the individual and the company.

This new generation can and will be your company’s “banner carriers” if you allow them – they will do for your company in one hour what would take your marketing department two weeks to accomplish – they will build your brand tweet-by-bloody-tweet if you allow them.

It is important to set standards, cut the problematic behavior off at the tip, and turn these great social tools and employees into a positive attribute for your company. This can all happen, but a plan must be put in place first. A good discussion/roundtable may be to talk with your new employees around their beliefs on the use of social media – what is right and what is wrong from a professional/organizational standpoint in their eyes. Make a task force to design a new set of social media standards for you organization – have both new and veteran employees be a part of it.

Have you and your company come up with any social media procedures yet? Do you have a set guideline for new workers accessing social networks? What are some of the negatives you see with allowing the use of these tools? Please comment.

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An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

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