So, I participated in one of those spirited conversations that sparked after a Barcamp session that I mentioned in my last post. This one revolved around whether or not social media belongs in the workplace. In the anti-social media corner, there was an older gentleman (the type who wears his blackberry on a belt clip – obviously old school) who worked for an HR company. Arguing for the validity of social media in the workplace were two young software engineers (the type who wear startup t-shirts, have long hair and carry messenger bags) and me (a strikingly beautiful and well-informed Interactive Campaign Specialist). I wish I would’ve had my old tape recorder from my reporter days… but I took that out of my purse three years ago. I’ll try and paraphrase:
Old dude rocking a belt clip: When an employee has an IM window open and is working at the same time, I know he’s slacking off. And I’m not paying him to IM all day.
Geek 1: My company does. Every department is siloed off from every other department. So another department found out from our internal blog that I had experience fixing Cisco routers. Now everytime one breaks, they IM me to come look at it. So while you say IMing wastes company resources, I say that IMing is saving my company a ton of resources. If guys in that other department hadn’t taken the time to get to know me through our internal blog, they would never have known that I could fix the routers and they would’ve had to get them fixed by someone else.
Old dude rocking a belt clip: Well that’s another thing I discourage. Internal blogs are too risky. You run the risk of having an employee say something negative about a coworker. The only time I would recommend an internal blog is if a company trains their employees on blogging etiquette.
Me: Blogging etiquette? I blog for my company, and it’s public. And no one needed to train me on blogging etiquette. Isn’t it just common sense? I mean, if an employee is going to trash another employee on a blog, it’s not the company’s fault. You can’t cure stupid. You wouldn’t train someone how to behave in a meeting would you?
Old dude rocking a belt clip: Well, no. But companies can get sued over that sort of thing. Let’s say a company gives blogging privileges to one of it’s engineers. And the engineer blogs how to set up a peice of hardware using specific settings. But, it’s actually the wrong settings and users end up breaking their piece of hardware. The company can get sued over that because it’s incorrect information that’s up on their blog.
Me: So… fire the engineer. Don’t strip blogging privileges from all employees because of one guy.
Geek 2: Exactly. And you’d run into the same problem even if the engineer posted the wrong settings on his facebook page. What do you do then? You can’t prevent people from using social media at home.
Old dude rocking a belt clip: The company would still be held responsible. It’s their employee posting bad information.
Geek 2: Well anyone can pose as anyone on the internet. I can claim that I’m a freakin’ Cisco Engineer and post the incorrect settings on my facebook page and by your standards Cisco would still be held responsible even though I’m not actually employed by Cisco.
Old dude rocking a belt clip: Well there’s not much Cisco could do about that.
Geek 1: So you might as well let your employees blog anyway.
Old dude rocking a belt clip: But what’s the incentive for employees to blog anyway? What’s your incentive (to me)?
Me: To learn and engage with other employees and bloggers. I learn something new everytime I write a post. And if you’re not eager to learn about what you do for a living, then maybe you should find a different career. But blogging my thoughts and ideas about my industry actually makes me enjoy it more.
Geek 1 and 2 in stereo: Yep.
Old dude rocking a belt clip: Well… I’ll reluctantly say that blogging or IMing about work related topics might serve a purpose in some companies. But let’s talk about Facebook. Now that really has NO role in a workplace. I don’t even get the point of it anyway.
Geek 2: No offense, but you’re obviously a different generation than the rest of us. Facebook is a social network – a chance for networking. You look like a big Linked In fan. It’s the same thing just with a lot of stupid applications you can add.
Geek 1: And you could make the argument that Facebook could serve the same purpose as our internal blog. A way to get to know your coworkers.
Old dude rocking a belt clip: Yeah but that’s not a company’s concern. Companies don’t pay employees to hang around the water cooler.
Geek 2: You’re absolutely wrong there. Companies do pay you for that. My boss lets me take as many smoke breaks as I want because he knows that I actually get work done outside talking to my smoke buddies.
Me: It is important to get to know your coworkers. And I do think that it should be a company’s concern because you’re a team. I like it when coworkers friend me on Facebook. Especially because I work with so many people around the country that I most likely will never lay eyes on. It’s nice to at least know what they look like when I’m on the phone or IMing them. And… maybe I’m weird, but I do feel closer to a coworker after they’ve “thrown a sheep at me” or “TGIF’ed” with me.
Old dude rocking a belt clip: But employees should not have Facebook open at work. That really serves no purpose in terms of productivity.
Geek 1: Yeah, you’re right about that.
After twenty minutes of debate, what we all could agree on is that social media is here to stay and there’s nothing companies can do to prevent it from creeping into the workplace. Furthermore, in order to recruit and retain Gen Y talent, companies mustn’t ban social media. There will always be another company across the street that will allow their employees to interact with eachover via social media. Instead, companies must embrace it and try to focus on the benefits of social media and do their best to control the negatives. What do you think?