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Guy Chiswick


Managing Director, UK&I

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Engaging employees in the age of social media


Social media is blurring boundaries between the personal and the professional, so how can HR teams manage employee communications in this period of transition?

When it comes to communication in today’s world, more is definitely more, with the average UK user scrolling through an impressive 5.149 miles of content every year.

In our personal lives, the ability to communicate at the touch of a button is a positive. However, at work, this always-on social feed can present a very real problem for HR managers, as they compete for a share of attention.

With no suggestion that the tide will turn, it is a case of achieving balance and activating social in a way that is context-appropriate. Channels such as Facebook and WhatsApp are now so deeply ingrained in all our lives that they are not just accepted in a business setting but increasingly being welcomed as important business communications tools.

In return for better and quicker communication on convenient and familiar channels, the boundaries that previously existed between personal and professional communication platforms are gradually eroding – but that does not come without its problems.

Data protection

There are inherent dangers in mixing business with pleasure on social media, and one such example is the potentially overlooked factor of data protection.

As of 25 May 2018, businesses across the EU are subject to the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which represents a step-change in terms of how businesses manage customer data.

GDPR won’t have an impact where employees are using tools such as WhatsApp for peer-to-peer social conversations, which sit outside the sphere of business. However, where those platforms have been deployed for business communication purposes, GDPR restrictions will apply and it will become incumbent on businesses to understand where and how data is stored.

For companies that fall foul of the regulation, there is the risk of being fined a not insignificant amount by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

GDPR has given companies a clear deadline to assess their approach to data, which extends to how platforms such as WhatsApp are being used for business purposes. But even in GDPR-compliant situations, there are still potential banana skins when relinquishing control of your communications to a third-party.

‘Off-grid’ communication

To begin with, anyone using an external platform to communicate is signing up to the privacy policy and terms associated with the platform in question. This means companies have no control over how data is encrypted or how content is archived, for example, offering very little basis for comeback in the event of disputes further down the line.

In the example of WhatsApp groups, there is also a danger of communication existing in grey areas between official and unofficial in the eyes of the business.

Employees might be praised for seizing the initiative and jumping at the chance to co-ordinate activities and share information, but this type of ‘off grid’ communication brings challenges and risks when it is not conducted under guiding parameters.

Even in the context of today’s more fluid relationship between the personal and professional, the broader question at play here is whether business designed to support social interaction and funded primarily by advertising is the right place to conduct business communication.

In environments such as retail, for example, there is a large proportion of part-time workers and staff turnover can be higher than average. This can lead to situations where employees that have since left a company continue to remain part of a semi-official group chat – which means they remain exposed to potentially sensitive information and company administrators can do little to control the situation.

Employee expectation

This highlights the core of the issue. Employees, particularly those who have grown up constantly plugged into constant social communication, expect far greater communication in their working lives, and they expect that communication to go beyond the relative straightjacket of email.

Tools such as Slack, Yammer and Trello have emerged into this space to bring a more collaborative approach across employees, particularly in corporate environments.

For businesses with a greater proportion of non-desk based employees, other tools are emerging that enable companies to communicate with employees in a familiar social-media style feed but all under the banner of a branded app.

This solution presents an opportunity for HR and internal communication teams to use the strengths of mobile for immediate, frequent information sharing. Crucially, these tools are deployed to meet the needs of the business in question – rather than being offered up as a white label solution.

This means that permissions and conversations are tailored and mapped to the requirements of individual employees based on their location, seniority or specific area of the business. It also ensures that communications are conducted under the banner of a company brand, bringing greater control to employers and clarity of purpose to employees.

Personal versus professional

From a very different angle, social media firms are also pivoting towards owning our work lives as well as our personal ones. Workplace by Facebook is an example, and at the recent F8 conference Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that the social media giant was looking to grow in this space, extending its sphere of influence beyond our private communications and into the world of work.

Even in the context of today’s more fluid relationship between the personal and professional, the broader question at play here is whether business designed to support social interaction and funded primarily by advertising is the right place to conduct business communication.

At a time when, for many sectors, employee engagement could be the single line between boom and bust, HR teams must look to the future and ask: which social solution is best for my business?

Want to read more about using social media at work? Read What to consider when preparing your social media policy.

Author Profile Picture
Guy Chiswick

Managing Director, UK&I

Read more from Guy Chiswick

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