Social media has become an integral part of people’s life. Companies use social media as a tool to sell to their clients, build their online brand, and attract potential customers. Businesses use Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter to connect to their customers, offer support, promote new products, and solve problems that arise. Social media is now a sharp tool in the marketing plan of many organizations, big and small. Without an online presence, a company loses its important competitive advantage. Companies even hire professional marketing services and social media experts to help build their online image. However, needless to say, everything has its pros and cons. There are certain negative impacts that social media has on business and employees. Being aware of these negative impacts is the very first step in coming up with effective ways to overcome them and making better use of this powerful tool (Stelios 2015).
Employees’ Use of Social Media Sites
Employees use social media for a variety of reasons. Many companies have adopted social media as an internal means of communication among employees. Instead of the traditional method of emailing or instant chat messengers, companies, especially those in the tech industry, opt for Slack, Twitter, or other revolutional social media platforms to create a fast, safe and convenient environment for communication. However, employees’ use of social media sites can become inappropriate if it deviates from what the original intent is. If an employee excessively uses social media to chat, discuss personal matters, or gossip, certain action has to be taken to ensure that such behavior won’t happen again. If the use of social media becomes a hindrance to productivity, the company may consider setting up rules and regulations to limit its employees’ use of social sites. Many companies even prohibit the use of social media sites during working hours all together. Access to popular social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, is blocked automatically and employees who are found to have broken the rules could face probation or even dismissal (Alsb.org., 2018).
Social Media and Company’s Reputation
Many cases have emerged recently regarding dismissal as a result of inappropriate use of social media. One such case is that of Taylor v Somerfield. In this case, an employee was dismissed after he posted a video on Youtube showing him playing with Somerfield plastic bags, together with another employee. He was fired on the ground that he brought disrepute to the company’s name. However, after that employee complained to the higher court, the Tribunal finally decided that it was an unfair dismissal given that the company failed to prove that the video had damaged its reputation. The judge discovered that the video had only been viewed 8 times, 3 of which were by the managers who investigated the case. Therefore, saying that the business’ reputation had been damaged was an unfounded statement (UK Practical Law, 2018).
On the other hand, another case proves the contrary. It’s the case of Preece v JD Wetherspoons. Two employees were found to have made inappropriate comments about the pub’s customers on their personal Facebook account. What the employees did was a breach of the pub’s policy and caused damage to its reputation. The comments were made during work hours, and Wetherspoons’ policy stated that it could take legal action against employees whose social posts cause damage to the reputation of the company (Weightmans, 2018). Many surveys and researches have pointed out that it is increasingly common for businesses to fire employees based on what they post online. Employees therefore should be extremely careful about their online presence, and refrain from posting controversial content that may jeopardize their relationship with the company.
Unintentional Disclosure of Confidential Information
Companies have competitive advantages that are crucial to their business success, and that they do not want outsiders to know about. However, it is not always easy to safeguard company’s private information in this digital age. An employee may accidentally share a post which contains private business information, and once he realizes his mistake, it is already too late, given how easy and fast it is for information to be shared through social media. It’s very common for employees to express their frustration and stress at work online. In fact, the recruitment agency MyJobGroup in the UK found out that about 40% of UK employees criticised their employers on social media ( UK Practical Law, 2018). In a related case, the Industrial Tribunal of Brussels ordered a former employee to pay the fee of €2,500 for all the damages he caused to the company’s reputation. The employee posted sensitive information regarding the company’s policies and strategies on his LinkedIn page. On the contrary, the National Labour Relations Board in the US dismissed a case in which the employee was fired because he criticised his employer on Facebook. His action was determined, by the National Labour Relations Board, to be within the rights of employees to discuss working conditions with their colleagues (Alsb.org., 2018). From an employer’s point of view, social media has created many grey areas regarding how they could control their employees’ behavior. Many companies deal with this by crafting up concise rules about what’s permitted and what’s not regarding their employees’ behavior on social media. To create a fulfilling and productive working environment, companies should organize internal trainings regularly to keep employees updated of the latest policies and adjust their behavior accordingly. Once employees see that certain rules are for their own benefits, they tend to comply to those rules more eagerly. Many companies make it clear to their employees that their online activities on social media sites will be monitored closely by the administrator (Alsb.org., 2018).
Reduced Face-to-Face Communication
As convenient as it seems, social media has created a peculiar problem for the society: reduced physical contact and face-to-face communication. People send their best birthday wishes to their friends, family, and colleagues on social media. Family members keep in touch with one another through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Friends chat daily on Whatsapp. Social media has made it easy to stay connected, however, it also reduced physical communication. In a corporate environment, communication is key to mutual understanding, smooth cooperation, and ultimately business success. It is easy for workers to communicate and stay connected most of the time through their online accounts. However, physical contact also declines. To cope with this, many companies frequently organize social events to help employees connect, socialize with one another, and build meaningful real life relationships.
Social Media Presence Screening
During the recruitment process, many companies have adopted the practice of checking the online presence of a candidate before making a decision. A 2013 survey by CareerBuilder found that over 39% of employers investigated the candidate’s social media presence while evaluating an application. An astounding 43% of questioned employers said that they found negative information about a candidate through his or her social postings. On the other hand, only 19% reported that they found impressive things about a candidate checking his or her social presence, and made a hiring decision based on that (WSJ, 2018). Much has been debated about the validity of this approach. Privacy proponents argue that employers are invading personal privacy by doing so, while advocates say that companies should use social media as a means to gauge potential candidates and that by monitoring their social media presence, companies can detect red flags more easily and avoid hiring the wrong person. This is to protect the company itself from potential threats to its own business interests.
Increased Consumer Power
Consumers are given greater power than ever, thanks to social media. They can complain publicly, make their frustration known by leaving negative reviews, or share their thoughts with the entire world through blog posts. It has become very difficult for companies to contain its negative publicity. This can be seen as a positive sign to make companies strive harder to gain trust from consumers. However, competitors could abuse this leveraged consumer power to try to damage the reputation of the business by intentionally spread bad rumours, write bad reviews, blog posts, etc. about the business. Companies now has the added burden of tracking online interactions and respond in a timely manner to all complaints and suggestions.
Social media can be a powerful tool if used wisely. However, businesses need to be aware of its negative side in order to benefit from it. It is important that companies set up concise rules and regulations regarding the use of social media in the workplace, as well as how information can be shared online. Employees need to be fully aware of the company’s policy and comply accordingly. Social media can be used as a tool to screen applicants for compatibility during the recruitment process. However, companies should not discriminate against an applicant based on his gender, religious beliefs, age, or ethnic background. Social media could be used as an effective means of communication within an organization. However, if it becomes a hindrance to productivity, restriction should be applied to make sure employees don’t abuse it. Generally speaking, by understanding the power and limit of social media, businesses could better protect themselves, and leverage the positive impact of social media to their advantage.
Alsb.org. (2018). The top ten NLRB cases on Facebook firings and employer social media policies. [online] Available at: http://alsb.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/NP-2013-OBrien_Top-Ten-NLRB.pdf [Accessed 18 Apr. 2018].
Haddud, Abubaker & Dugger, John & Gill, Preet. (2016). Exploring the Impact of Internal Social Media Usage on Employee Engagement. Journal of Social Media for Organizations. 3. 1–23.
UK Practical Law (2018). Taylor v Somerfield Stores Ltd ETS/107487/07. [online] Available at: https://uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com/Link/Document/Blob/I42aaa7290c5511e498db8b09b4f043e0.pdf?targetType=PLC-multimedia&originationContext=document&transitionType=DocumentImage&uniqueId=dab26f32-02ba-4920-a92d-03ff83dfcfed&contextData=%28sc.Default%29&comp=pluk [Accessed 18 Apr. 2018].
Weightmans. (2018). Preece v JD Wetherspoons plc. [online] Available at: https://www.weightmans.com/insights/preece-v-jd-wetherspoons-plc/ [Accessed 18 Apr. 2018].
WSJ. (2018). Should Companies Monitor Their Employees’ Social Media?. [online] Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/should-companies-monitor-their-employees-social-media-1399648685 [Accessed 18 Apr. 2018].