Emerging HR Practices

The private/public debate and social media

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Written by: Puseletso Mompei

Before smart phones, laptops and the internet, everyone would go home at the end of the day, retreat to their private lives and only connect again the next day. But that’s no longer the case. E-mails sail in at 11pm on Friday nights, twitter conversations involving your business can happen at 2pm on Saturday and your staff can be on facebook at any time of the day or night.

What does this mean for your company?

Re-evaluate public/private divide.
Technology and Social media have created an overlap in our lives with the 24/7 connectivity we now enjoy. What is private or company time can be informed by various factors, such as the platform, mode of access and context. Depending on the business you are in, the demands of the work and the utility of tools by staff may yield varied answers. In the PR space for instance, being on twitter can be part of your job description, but for a hospital technician it is not a necessity.

Work with a social media practitioner and legal team to inform your parameters. Once your company has arrived at a definition, communicate the company’s interpretation to your team, with clear reasons as to why this position is being adopted.

Educate staff
Reputation management is no longer the domain of your Media and Communications team, every staff member is an important stakeholder in upholding the company’s brand. It is important that staff understand how search engines and aggregating tools operate.

Team members will benefit from knowing that results are not separated according to what suits them, that even if you delete a post, people can still find it, and more importantly, that pictures, videos and comments posted in their private capacity can have an impact on their employer. Also include provision for concepts like cyber bullying and identity theft which have the potential to severely disrupt the dynamics of the workplace.

Discuss and engage
Discussing the social media guidelines or policy with staff and helping them understand where company versus personal parameters lie is important. People may want to know if the rules apply if they are communicating on their personal devices or if their accounts get hacked into. As an HR practitioner, your guidance is crucial.

A simple, straight forward definition of what the company considers private or public should be provided in writing. This allows staff to refer back to something in their daily interaction, and also provide the company some recourse should an employee behave irresponsibly.

Incorporate Personal responsibility
The integrated nature of social media and its’ impact on our everyday lives, as well as the rapid development of tools and platforms, means that you cannot police staff 24 hours(nor would you want to) so you have to trust your staff to carry out their lives in a responsible manner. Educate them, provide clarity and leadership and you will be able to guide your staff through the brave new world of a socially connected workplace.

Puseletso Mompei is a Communications Consultant and Trainer. She offers Communications and Media training for corporate executives, spokespersons, managers, entrepreneurs, government officials, diplomats, academia and public relations officers. Contact her at puseletso@kwazicommunications.co.za, or visit www.kwazicommunications.co.za for more information.

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