Carlton Reid, BikeBiz executive editor, discusses social media sites...

COMMENT: Should employers snoop on their staff?

In mid-November I did my first ever webinar. A whatinar? A webinar. It is an online, group discussion with PowerPoint slideshows.

The subject was social media. The webinar was organised by ICLA, the International Cycling Law Association, based in the US. Along for the ride were a couple of lawyers, and Chris Matthews, global marketing integrations manager for Specialized.

As you would imagine, the lawyers talked about slander and misrepresentation, all the downsides of social media. In fact, so did I. While I am a big fan of social media, I readily admit it can be a time sink. If you can get it right in your business, then it can be an excellent marketing tool, but use it ineffectively and it can be a waste of time and resources.

Some US bike shops attract lots of extra business – or cement existing relationships – via Twitter and Facebook, but it can be hard work keeping up with all the social niceties online.

But wait up, there’s another use for social media in your business. And that’s snooping. Keeping tabs on your competitors is clearly very easy if they’re on Twitter, but it is also a way of keeping up to speed on employees and to screen job applicants.

Google ‘Cisco fatty’, to read about the female IT worker in the US who tweeted: ‘Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.’ Someone at Cisco saw the post, did a snarky one in return, and the IT worker found the job offer revoked.

Because online witterings are open to see, and archived, it’s wise to think before tweeting. Feel strongly about race/religion/politics/your co-workers? Be careful what you write out there.

Do you update with non-work stuff every ten minutes? Bosses (and spouses) won’t like that.

Want to call in a sickie to attend a party instead? Don’t. Plenty of Facebook users have been caught out this way, with tagged and dated photos from their friends being their undoing. Like the odd tipple? Don’t tweet about it.

And curb your cussing. A good rule of thumb is never post anything you wouldn’t want your mum reading (because she probably is).

As an employer, should you ban social media sites? In October, IT firm Morse, estimated that the time workers spend on Twitter costs the British economy £1.38 billion a year.

Philip Wicks, consultant at Morse, said: “Social networking can be a cause for good when it is used professionally, but I think organisations need to wake up – that is not the way it is always being used.”

Your business – every business – needs a Social Media Usage policy.

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