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Boundaries needed in social media for business

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Carrie Bowe Carrie Bowe
Lisette Jean-Jacques Lisette Jean-Jacques

Carrie Bowe is director of marketing and business development and Lisette Jean-Jacques is a supervised psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at Clayman & Associates in Charleston.

The use of social media has skyrocketed since its inception in the late 1960s. Hard to believe that a medium only in existence for such a relatively short period of time has transformed into, for many, a primary form of communication. In fact, according to 2012 statistics, there are more devices connected to the Internet than there are people on Earth. And 40 percent of people say they socialize more online than they do in person. 

With the evolving presence of social media, from email and websites to mobile and social networking, businesses have had to make significant adjustments in communication strategies both externally and internally. 

Externally, companies have had to adopt websites and gain a loyal following on social sites to maintain credibility, relevancy and connectivity to consumers. What makes social media so powerful is its ability to transmit word-of-mouth experiences (positive or negative). From what used to be only a few other people over a number of days to countless people in a matter of seconds — increasingly requiring companies to employ a full-time position to address online customer service and reputation management needs.

But what many businesses have found is that often it is the internal effects of social media that are just as or even more powerful to a company's status, productivity and bottom line. And while there are certainly positive aspects (branding and marketing), for employee relations purposes, the focus now is on some of the often overlooked, undesirable impacts of emerging media in the workplace.

Unrealistic Expectations Blur Boundaries

When instant gratification is the new norm, employees begin to expect the same type of automatic response from everything and everyone — and so do employers, customers and vendors. Once you open the door of 24-hour availability that social connectivity offers, the work/home balance becomes blurred. Emails are answered on vacation; text messages at 2 a.m., and Twitter inquiries during the birth of your firstborn. Big, impractical expectations can often lead to big, monumental disappointments — and even bigger (and faster) burnout.

Entering the "Friend Zone"

Social networking sites lend themselves to more casual dialogue – leading to the potential erosion of professional boundaries between employees/customers/vendors and employees/employers. This can become problematic when parties want to "friend" or connect with one another on a social platform. These lines should be carefully maintained. 

Too Much Information

There are reasons for your company to be concerned about what your employees are sharing with one another and the general public. Especially via social networking, employees of the company are often a direct reflection of how the public views the business as a whole — positive or negative. One seemingly innocuous post can go "viral" and hurt a business in any number of ways.

Milking the Clock

According to a recent survey, the average employees admit to wasting two to three hours per day which, from an employer's perspective, is a misuse of pay and can negatively impact productivity. Although some companies completely restrict Internet access, technologically-savvy employees can often figure ways to bypass firewalls and Internet use restrictions. 

The Rumor Mill

As stated earlier, through social networking, information can be transmitted to and received by thousands of people within seconds. While often beneficial, the opposite can be quite the catastrophe if the information is inaccurate, confidential, prematurely released and/or damaging to the company. There is such a thing as bad publicity.

Taken together, while there are drawbacks to social media, there is certainly a place for such networking in making positive contributions to businesses. As with everything, emerging media can be used for the good of your company, but if not careful, what was designed as a tool to help us take control of our lives will become a tool that takes over our lives. The overwhelming distractions coupled with extreme expectations for connectivity and accessibility can become daunting responsibilities placed on your employees, actually reducing overall morale and productivity. 

To address the drawbacks, it is critical to maintain awareness of employee duties your company requires in order to ensure a healthy balance. And while research has shown that the complete restriction of social media in the workplace dissuades potential employees from pursuing employment, responsible employers should develop and enforce guidelines for company social media use (and to some extent, personal use), accountability measures, implement training programs that offer guidance on how to properly utilize social media in personal and professional capacities — with an emphasis on educating employees on how social media can positively and negatively impact the business and their lives.