Why banning social media in the workplace can hurt


Treat people like toddlers, and they will act like toddlers (and that is no disrespect meant the two delightful beautiful toddlers that I am mother to!).

The more micro-rules I get handed to me, the more I feel stiffled and paralyzed. Think of the mind numbing 5 page dress code policy listing by gender what is appropriate and what is not e.g. “For women, one earring no bigger than a dime, studs only, hair natural color, not pink, purple or blue, tied up off the shoulders, no more than 2 bracelets per wrist, shoes must be closed toe, colors appropriate are black, navy, brown and heels not bigger than 1.3 inches (you get the picture…)


think of the opposite… a dress code policy that is a set of guidelines that educate you on the brand, the company, the audience, and help frame choicesyou can make e.g. “Our hotel guests are for the most part in the Baby Boomer demographic and are paying on average $600/night to stay in our hotel. How we present ourselves as individuals and as a team for that demographic is really about showing respect- and we do that in several ways: Our uniforms are always neat and pressed, we wear our nametags so people can easily identify ourselves, we make sure the guest can have direct and easy eye contact with us, so baseball hats and long hair in the face aren’t great choices (or variations of this.)”

(side note – You can always add the  “as a leadership team, if we feel that a conversation 1:1 is required to clarify our standards, we will follow up with you directly”)

Social media policy seems to fall in one of three categories: 

1. “Shut it all down, block it!” :  fear that employees will be surfing Facebook all day, or will use those sites to make disparaging comments about your company. Essentially no trust whatsoever, or maybe just no resources for education and support

2. Access limited with lots of rules: the rule book reads like a telephone directory and was likely written by someone in the HR department or legal department who may or may not have experience with social media in workplaces

3. Free access with the understanding that it is monitored: This one makes the most sense to me, but certainly comes with the most legwork to EDUCATE and TRAIN employers & leaders alike. Train and Educate on the basics if they need it, encourage discussion with scenarios so they can understand how their actions have impact, support ongoing and actively rewarding influencers.

Mashable recently published an awesome article on what to do when employees engage in controversial behavior online. They provide a social media triage graph that helps leaders make decisions when the inevitable happens and an employee says something inappropriate about the company.

I like this approach. You don’t pull the ostrich card and stick your head in the sand assuming because you can’t see danger it isn’t around you (when in fact it’s probably the opposite given that employees have access to social sites at their fingertips anyway with their smart phones).

So instead of running from the problem and limiting your employees’ reach on the Internet, consider opening up access to all social sites and monitoring tools so that employees can take an active role in managing your brand’s presence online.

So when you think about those policies you dread like the dress code (or my other favorite the travel policy or meal policy) where the list of DON’Ts makes you feel slightly insulted to read, think about the potential for creating a workplace where adults can have conversations with other adults and coach each other about subjective things like judgement calls and preventing tricky situations and knowing what tools to use when.

The combination of the following is something to think about

1. Know what your culture and brand are all about

2. Be able to clearly articulate to your employees how they help (or can hinder) the evolution of those two things using social media

3. Provide the time, the training, the support and the guidance to coach

4. Have the resources to monitor and course correct when needed

5. Realize that if you have 5 or 500 employees, they are all representing your brand and company every minute of every day whether you realize it or not

Why not leverage the POTENTIAL of having all those people creating conversation touchpoints…. and with each of those touchpoints… a connection to you and your brand?