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A Serious Approach to Social Media

Written by: Ashley Whipman
Published on: 23 Jun 2011

Allowing employees to use social media at work can create benefits for an accountancy firm, especially if rules and expectations are set up front.

The use of social media is rapidly transforming the way we communicate and conduct business. While some firms have been quick to embrace the Web 2.0 way of working, many others are taking more of a wait-and-see approach. Often, their caution is linked to uncertainty about what impact social media might have on workforce productivity. 

recent survey conducted by Robert Half's U.S. operations revealed that more than half of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) worry that their employees will waste time if allowed to use social media while on the job. Eighteen per cent cited unprofessional behaviour as a top concern. However, when asked about benefits, 3 in 10 CFOs said social media would allow their teams to provide better customer service. Enhancing the firm's reputation, expanding contact networks, and securing new business were also seen as potential rewards.

If your firm is thinking seriously about making social media an everyday business tool for your employees, here are some tips that will likely help you both preserve workforce productivity and realise positive returns: 

Let your employees know you trust them

There may be some risk of lost productivity in allowing your team to use social media during the workday, but you still need to trust that your employees will keep their priorities straight. 

When opening the gates to social media at your firm, make it clear that you expect performance standards to be maintained – if not improved. Communicate big picture business objectives to your team by letting them know why the firm wants to make better use of social media. For example, you want to improve customer service, recruit new talent, or improve collaboration among employees.

Also, resist the temptation to over-monitor your employees; many will resent your implication that they can't responsibly use social media – and their time at work.

Develop a social media policy

Leading companies have written acceptable-use policies that outline what employees can and cannot do when using company equipment, such as computers and mobile phones. Many businesses today have adapted their policies to include specific rules about internet and social media use. 

Work with your HR, legal and IT teams to develop a policy that is appropriate for your firm and an approach for communicating expectations to your staff. You may want to include the policy in your employee handbook, post it on your intranet, and even have a formal meeting to educate your team about the guidelines and invite them to offer feedback. 

Lead by example 

As a manager, you can play a key role in setting the standard for social media use at your firm. Whether it's blogging about accounting and finance issues on the corporate website, tweeting company news on Twitter, or interacting with potential recruits on Facebook, using Web 2.0 technologies in a variety of ways will underscore to your employees that management takes 'getting social' seriously.

Once you've started using social media throughout the firm, encourage employees to communicate how they're benefitting from its use. And in the middle of the workday, if you notice an employee laughing at a YouTube video of a cat playing the piano, keep in mind that he or she is essentially taking the modern equivalent of a coffee break. Allowing your workers to be distracted occasionally by the fun aspects of social media will likely enhance their productivity – not hurt it.

Ashley Whipman is an Associate Director for Robert Half Management Resources, the UK's premier provider of senior-level professionals on an interim basis. You can follow @Robert Half on Twitter.