Lately, it feels that employment law is revolving solely around social media. Indeed, many of my speaking engagements recently have all had a social media bent. (This week, I’ll be keynoting a speech to the Connecticut chapter of the Society of Marketing Professionals Services on Strategies and Risks on Social Media in the Workplace). 

Over the weekend, the Hartford Business Journal even published a few articles about lawyers using social media — of which I was quoted. 

All of this can leave those on the outside wondering if too much is being made on social media’s true impact in the workplace.  (Indeed, I wrote about how I was looking for something new on the topic last month.)

Here’s my take — even if too much IS being made about social media right now (and I’m pretty sure there is) social media’s impact is undeniable.  Social media is not going away.  I don’t mean not going anyway anytime soon, I mean not going away period.  

Over 850 million people are now on Facebook; 500 million on Twitter. And many more on sites like LinkedIn, Pinterest, and even Google+.  These people are not going to wake up tomorrow and realize that social media is a colossal waste of time. 

People are using it. Using it to make connections and to learn things.  And they are using it a lot on their smartphones.  Those firewalls that employers used to use to prevent access a few years ago are virtually meaningless today.

What are some of the implications for employers of understanding that social media is here to stay?

  • Employers need a comprehensive strategy to dealing with the fact that employees ARE going to use social media.  It’s not enough to simply say that they can’t; employers ought to be educating employees on how TO use social media effectively too.
  • Employers should remain focused on performance.   If employees are not getting the job done, then does it really matter that they were on Facebook? Just think back to a different generation — what did you do with employees who were on the phone too much?  
  • Employers ought to understand what’s going on with social media. Get on it.  You may not find utility on these sites but that’s beside the point. Understanding HOW people are using it can give employers some perspective to what is truly going on.  People aren’t discussing what they had for breakfast much anymore (and I’m not sure they ever really did.)

But one last overriding point that is worth emphasizing: Social media does not mean you have to throw out your existing rules.  The rules on confidentiality, or anti-discrimination, for example, still apply on the online world.  Employers just need to understand that they what happens in the workplace isn’t necessarily staying in the workplace anymore.   

So, how do you START with these sites? Do a search for “Facebook 101” or “How to Use Facebook”.  There are plenty of sites offering free help.