Category Archives: Social Media in the Workplace

10 ways to say thank you to your public relations interns

Inviting your summer interns back for the company holiday party is another nice way to say thank you to your interns.

We still have a bit of summer left, but it won’t be long before your public relations interns are packing up and heading back to college, or moving on to their first jobs.

Hopefully, your company has given them real-life experiences, coaching, and the hourly pay they are entitled to for bringing value to your firm.  If you handled the internship well, the interns will leave with a favorable impression of your company and will go on to be brand ambassadors.  But did your intern go the extra mile?  Are you especially glad you hired her or him?

If so, before the internship ends, now is the time to think about the ways you can say thank you to your public relations interns, while giving them a good start on their public relations careers.  Here are some suggestions for ways to thank and help your interns before their internship ends.

1. Schedule a meeting with the intern, about a week or two before their last day.  Give them notice of it now, so they can prepare.  You can explain that at this meeting you will discuss and assess their work, provide advice, review their work samples, and hear how their internship experience went for them.  I asked my interns to write a brief summary of their internship experience before this meeting for me.   This helps the intern organize work samples for her or his portfolio, and gives you information to tackle their recommendation letter.

2. Write a LinkedIn recommendation.  Your recommendation may be the first one they receive, so it is especially meaningful.  It should be brief and honest, but specific.  Think of three projects the intern worked on, and their contribution.  Mention a few personal qualities that make this intern desirable as an employee.

3. Write a letter of recommendation.  A letter of recommendation you provide on company letterhead is important for a few reasons.  First of all, not every employer is on LinkedIn (gasp!).  Also, it’s helpful to have a paper copy of a recommendation for the intern’s portfolio, and the letterhead and signature lend authenticity.  In addition, if the intern goes on to another internship, some applications require at least one letter of recommendation.

4. Offer to review their updated portfolio and resume.  At this point, the intern should have work samples, a fair idea of their contributions to the firm, and a letter of recommendation (before their last day).  They can now update their resume with their internship experience.  Review their updated resume and portfolio with them and explain how to make the most of these assets in a job interview.

5.  Schedule a farewell meeting with a top executive.  Before the intern leaves, speak to your top executive about having a brief meeting with you and the intern.  The executive should be informed about the contributions the intern made before the meeting.  You should also coach the intern on basic business protocol before the meeting.  This is an opportunity for the top executive to thank the intern and impart any quick words of advice, and the chance for the intern to also say thank you and collect a memory for a lifetime.  Don’t forget to bring a camera!

6. Connect through social media.  If you haven’t had this discussion, now may be a good time to explain the business etiquette of social media.  For example, interns and supervisors do not usually connect on Facebook.  However, you can safely encourage the intern to connect with you on LinkedIn, and you can offer to review their LinkedIn profile and make recommendations.  You can also encourage your intern to “Like” the company Facebook Page, subscribe to the company YouTube Channel, and follow the company blog and Twitter account.

7. Take some photos.  I mentioned taking a photo with the chief executive but make sure you also snap a few pictures (with your camera or the intern’s) of them sitting at their desk, posed with employees in the office, in front of the building, at their farewell lunch, working on a project, and even of work samples.  Email them the digital files.  These photos really come in handy for updating social media profiles and for use in job interviews, and they will become a treasured memento for the interns.

8. Ask the intern to write an article about their internship experience for the company blog.  The summary they wrote for you (in tip #1) and the photos (in tip #7) will make for a meaningful blog post that will make the whole company feel good, and will encourage quality interns to apply for your next internship offering.

9. Write a brief thank you note (handwritten) on your personal stationery or a card.  Yes, you will have already written the letter of recommendation on company letterhead.  But that is directed to a future employer.  You should also thank the intern personally.  This is another item that will become a memento for the intern.  If you give the intern this note a week in advance (say, at the end of the day on the Friday before their last week), it may also prompt him or her to write a thank you note to you, which is great business etiquette training.

10. Provide a parting gift.  What you give the intern as a parting present depends on your budget, their contribution, and how many interns you have.  If you have a small budget, you might gift them with some company imprinted items you have on hand, or a business card case.  But if the intern was really outstanding, and your company has the budget, one especially significant gift is to give them their first professional membership.  Professional associations usually discount their membership fees for young professionals.  So, if you would like to do this, you can discuss the options with your intern, have them complete the membership application, and then issue a check to the organization for their first year of membership.  Some suggestions: Washington Women in Public Relations ($40 for college students, $85 for regular membership) or the Public Relations Society of America ($155 for applicants with two or less years of experience).

What ways have you found to thank your public relations interns?

Social media in the workplace (Mindflash infographic)

Check out this helpful infographic highlighting statistics and best practices associated with social media in the workplace from Mindflash.  (You’ll find more posts on this topic in our blog by checking out the categories, right.)

Employees are your most powerful spokespeople

The Financial Times reported today on survey results that indicate employees are feeling increasingly stressed in the workplace.  The dangers associated with overworked and discontented employees include quality and productivity issues, safety issues, and customer service problems.

Employees come to work sick more frequently now, because they are afraid to lose their jobs. Bullying and harassment by managers is on the rise.  Although the survey was conducted among human resources managers in the U.K., I am seeing this play out daily in Falls Church, Virginia.

Employees are a company’s ambassadors
What is the public relations and marketing lesson here?  As I have said before, marketing and public relations efforts will help a business or organization achieve its goals, but it is not a magic bullet.  Imagine how an advertising and public relations campaign can be sabotaged by a disgruntled employee.

Example: Overworking Employees at the Grocery Store
For example, my neighborhood grocery store (a major brand) fails to staff its store sufficiently on a regular basis, obviously trying to control costs.  Ironically, the store recently invested in a complete redesign.  It looks better, but since the economy worsened, so have management conditions at that store.  The employees are being worked to death.  A sad example happened just before the Superbowl.  The young man checking out my groceries appeared so fatigued and ill, I was afraid he was going to lose consciousness.  He told me he had not had a break all day.  We both tried to signal his manager; she saw, but ignored us.  That is just one example of many I have seen at this grocery store.

Example: Public Humiliation at the Post Office
Last month, I visited a large, busy post office I frequent often.  Anyone can see the employees there are conscientious and work very hard under less than ideal conditions.  An employee requested a break to use the bathroom.  I could tell he was almost afraid to ask.  The manager, who had been communicating disrespectfully to the employees the entire time I was there, denied his request in a humiliating way, that all who were in line and at the counters witnessed.  I was mortified and disgusted by her treatment of him.

Example: Disregarding the Communications Power of a Single Employee
I visited a business that offers copy services last week.  The employee and I were having a casual conversation as I checked out.  He proceeded to tell me, in great detail, how he and the other employees were being denied their promised bonuses in a corporate restructuring, as well as deceptions and other unfair practices.  Before he was done, he had told me enough inside information to write a revealing article, had I chosen to do so.  You don’t think the employee was a spokesperson for that company at that moment?   He was intelligent, articulate, and very angry.

Mistreat Employees, Expect to Lose Business
There is a cost associated with doing business. Minimum standards must be met, even in a recession.  Companies cannot continue to exploit their employees and expect to stay in business long.  For many companies, their employees are their best spokespersons, and all the advertising and public relations in the world will not erase certain negative perceptions communicated by them to customers.  No customer can feel good about frequenting a business where employees are not treated respectfully.  Companies and organizations clearly need to reset their priorities, treat their employees fairly, and invest more heavily in employee communications strategies.

Social Media in the Workplace: New Stats and Findings

There were some interesting statistics in today’s Ad Age article on social media, among them: several related to social media in the workplace.

Social Media, Security, and Risks in the Workplace

Nearly half of companies (44%) track employees’ social-media use in and out of the office (TheNextWeb).

IT professionals see serious risks associated with enterprise social network use — and only 29% say they have adequate protection. (InformationWeek: The BrainYard)

Most people (73%) think employees overshare on social-media. (Marketing Pilgrim)

Social Media Availability and Job Satisfaction

One third of respondents (33%) said that they would prioritize social-media freedom, device flexibility, and work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer. (GigaOm)

More than half of college students surveyed (56%) said they would not accept a job offer from a company that banned access to social media at work, or they would find a way to circumvent corporate policy.  (GigaOm)

Social Media Usage in the Workplace

More than half of American workers (54%) stream mobile video at work. (Tubefilter)

New study reveals employees handling social media are untrained

We’re familiar with all the social media gaffes that have been committed recently by untrained employees.  Why just this week, a Fortune 500 company I subscribe to on YouTube inadvertently put up a Beavis and Butthead video — and alerted all their subscribers to the fact.

Wonder why these mistakes happen again and again?  Chalk it up to inexperience and lack of training (and cluelessness on the part of management).  When will it ever stop?  Not much hope there unless companies begin devoting attention to the problem and investing serious resources to resolving it, if results from the latest surveys are any indication.

A new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reveals that few employees tasked with social media duties are trained to do so by their employer.

Seems kind of basic, doesn’t it?  And yet…

The “Social Media in the Workplace” survey reports 73% of responding employers do not provide social media training to employees engaged in social media outreach to external audiences.

Only 27% of employers do provide social media training to the employees in charge of social media for their companies.  Isn’t that astounding?

Where is the problem?  Sadly, communications professionals account for the lion’s share. The departments that handled social media outreach were, according to respondents

  • Marketing, 67%
  • HR, 44%
  • Public Relations, 38%
  • Sales, 24%
  • Management, 20%
  • Customer service, 15%

This is a case where outside communications consultants with extensive backgrounds in public relations, marketing, and social media can bring real value to companies — in providing training, social media policy development, and even community management.

About the Survey

SHRM polled 532 randomly selected HR professionals from its membership.  The survey is the third in a series that examines the use of social media in the workplace. For details, visit the survey section of SHRM Online at http://www.shrm.org/surveys.

The challenge of social media in the workplace: across borders

Say you are a firm that operates in more than one state in the United States.

Or perhaps you have offices in other countries.

How do you institute social media policies that work for your business?

Well, good luck with that!  In the United States, of course, the Department of Labor does not dictate how businesses may or may not use social media, although some businesses are regulated about their use of advertising (and that may, through interpretation, extend to social media)  and businesses and individuals are also required to disclose endorsement and client relationships on social networks and blogs (Federal Trade Commission guidelines, 2009).

But say you wanted to research a potential candidate and you looked at their Facebook profile.  Would that violate any fair hiring practices?  It depends on where you live.  You’d better not try it in Italy.

And what if you wanted to monitor your employees’ usage of social media while at work?  Or after work hours?  Are there laws governing that?  Not in Virginia.  But in some other states, yes.

There are countries who have instituted regulations specifically regarding social media in the workplace.   The international law firm Proskauer has provided a summary of laws as apply to several countries.

Take the example of employee monitoring.  Everywhere, an employer may prohibit the use of social media in the workplace on company time, or block social media sites at work.  But how do you enforce that?  In Italy, an employer may not monitor the social media use of an employee at all.  In England, the company must demonstrate that the monitoring was warranted.  In France, an employee must be fully informed beforehand.  In Spain, employers may monitor the time spent on social networks, but not the content viewed (without consent).

Addressing the usage of social media in companies that operate across state lines or internationally requires the assistance of legal counsel and human resources experts.

Social Media in the Workplace: New Statistics

Things were simpler, once. Photo credit: Galaxy FM

Results from the Proskauer International Labor & Employment Group Survey were released last month, and describe a global picture of how social networking is being employed  — and not — in the workplace.

The findings illuminate the risks and need for companies to intelligently address those risks.

While 76% of the companies used social networks, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, for business purposes, stunningly, more than 40% of the respondents have reported employee misuse of social networks, and nearly a third have had to impose disciplinary actions on employees.  Easy to understand, then, why 29% of companies are actively blocking employee usage of social networking in the workplace and 75% completely or somewhat restrict access to social networks at work for non-business use, and less than a third felt that there was any advantage at all to allowing employees access to social networks for non-business use while at work.

Daniel Ornstein, a London-based Partner in the International Labor & Employment Group, stated. “Although [social networking] has many benefits, hardly a week goes by without yet another new story of a viral tweet or posting that has the potential to damage the reputation of a business, underscoring the need for companies to be proactive in this area.”

Are businesses being proactive, though?  Apparently not.  45% of the responding businesses admitted they did not have a social media policy and only 27% monitor employee usage of social media sites.

Social Media in the Workplace: Setting Contact Limits for Schools to Protect Students

Seal of Missouri.

Image via Wikipedia

As discussed last week in this blog, social media presents risks, as well as opportunities, particularly in the workplace.  Yet another example has surfaced that I think deserves attention and consideration as we all try to work out what is appropriate and advisable in the use or restriction of social media in the workplace.

The state of Missouri passed the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act last week, which is intended to ease the prosecution of sexual predators in the schools, and reduce risks associated with sexual predation.  The law goes into effect at the end of this month, in time for the new school year.  One teachers’ organization is protesting a section of the law that relates to social networking, claiming it is unconstitutional.

The Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minor Students in Schools

The intent of this law, of course, is worthy, and Ms. Hestir’s testimony that supported it is heart-breaking and unfortunately relates a situation not uncommon.   Studies vary on the rate of prevalence of sexual abuse of underage students, but estimates range from 13% to 34% for female students and 7% to 16% for male students, according to a 2004 U.S. Department of Education report.  Clearly, more does need to be done to protect students in schools.

Do Sexual Abusers Exploit Children on Social Networks?
You may wonder if social networks have been misused by child predators.  The answer is yes.  The law was prompted in Missouri after 87 teachers lost their licenses for sexual misconduct, much of it allegedly involving online interactions.   A 2008 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 4% of study respondents said they had received an unwanted solicitation specifically via a social networking site (such as MySpace or Facebook).  And this was a limited sample in terms of age, and measured in early 2008, so we can probably assume that the problem is quite a bit more extensive.  There are other well documented cases of predators using Facebook and other social networking sites to “groom” their victims, such as the incident of a U.K. predator who pretended to be a teenager online on Facebook and other social networks to contact and eventually molest children.

Does The Missouri Legislation Violate the Rights of Teachers?

The controversy that has arisen this week, however, relates to a section of new Missouri law that could be applied to the use of social media:

SECTION 162.069 – By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.

At first glance, the section seems to be instituting common-sense protections. The requirement that each school district have a social media policy that conforms with state and federal laws is a sound move, although I would hope there would be state-wide resources dedicated to the school districts for developing and enforcing these social media policies.

However the Missouri State Teachers Association has questioned the constitutionality of this section of the new law, once again bringing up the social media in the workplace/free speech issue.  The teachers’ association “opposes one provision that would inhibit educators’ ability to communicate with students via text messaging and social media….infringes on educators’ first amendment rights of free speech, association and religion.”

The lawsuit identifies several ways the plaintiffs believe the new legislation would impact the rights of teachers, (read the petition here), including interfering with teachers abilities to communicate with students about church activities and communicating with their own children who happen to be students.

A.P.’s Alan Zagler reported in his story on this controversy  “State Sen. Jane Cunningham, who sponsored the proposal, said many educators who have spoken against the new rules misunderstand them. The legislation had backing from education lobbyists and organized teacher groups and enjoyed unanimous support from lawmakers.”  Initially, it also had support from the same teachers’ association that is now suing the State of Missouri.

As I read about this controversy, I was torn between what I feel is a legitimate protective measure and the points raised by the teachers’ association.

Limitations on the workplace usage of social media are advisable, and guidelines that clearly specify the boundaries of appropriate teacher-student contact are clearly needed, not only as relates to possible sexual misconduct, but all communication between teachers and students.  I believe the legislation is the right step in the right direction.  Could it be clearer?  Yes.  Is it unconstitutional?  I don’t think so.  According to the teacher association’s blog,

For Facebook and Twitter users, the bill would require that any communications that are made between a district employee and a student must be accessible to the administrators and parents. This would seem to imply that the communication must be publically posted on the Facebook wall and that no personal communications can be made via direct messaging or chats on Facebook. For Twitter, this means you cannot have an account with protected tweets or send direct messages.

Even the teachers’ association is admitting that this does not prevent them from interacting on Facebook or Twitter. It merely prevents teachers from interacting PRIVATELY on Facebook or Twitter, using texting, etc. in a way that cannot be monitored by the school and parents.

My Take on the Situation

I think the teachers association is going overboard, and that their case would have been strengthened had they presented their own recommended remedies.  The legislation does not interfere with their ability to teach, or use social networks in an appropriate fashion as relates to their employment by the school district.

One of the claims of the petition, for example, states that the legislation would interfere with their ability to provide assistance to their students (for example, in detecting bullying).

Plaintiffs have used and are using non-work-related social networking sites as an important avenue for contact with students, both during emergencies and for everyday educational issues, such as when a student has difficulty with a classroom assignment or identifying bullying.

I fail to see how this could not be accomplished in other and more appropriate ways than by confidential interactions on social networks.   Help with classroom assignments can and should be provided at school, or through school-approved online networks, such as Blackboard.  Teachers should not be confidentially contacting students about emergencies via non-work online social networks — that is not their job or role.  And schools have procedures in place for identifying and rectifying bullying that do not involve the confidential use of social networks.  I feel the type of communication cited in the petition could be inappropriately applied or abused, and in many cases over-steps the boundaries of the teacher-student relationship.  After all, these forms of contact cannot be monitored by the schools, and it is workplace-related.  For example, imagine if a teacher asked to friend a high school student on Facebook. Would the student be in a position to decline?  Just as employers should not ask their employees to be Facebook friends, teachers should not ask their students to be Facebook friends.  The students are not in a position to say no, and the teacher, who is a paid employee of the school district, cannot be effectively monitored.  This not only puts the child at risk, it also puts the school system at legal risk.

As a parent, I would not want my minor child’s teacher to communicate with him during non-school hours and in non-school settings, without my and the school’s consent and awareness.  Protections are needed because less than 5% of abuse cases are reported.  As in the case of Amy Hestir, underage student victims of sexual abuse are usually coerced, threatened or shamed into secrecy.  They cannot be relied on to defend themselves without help.  I believe it is far more important that the Missouri schools — and all schools — take steps to institute actionable social media policies and training among their employees, as well as their students, and proceed with legal protections that will keep our students safe at school, and mitigate the risk of litigation against school systems.

Social Media in the Workplace: The Challenge of Training and Monitoring Employee Compliance

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

For larger firms, highly regulated firms, and firms with assessed risks, social media can appear to be more of a curse than a blessing.  But developing a social media policy, offering workplace training, and monitoring employee compliance can go a long way to mitigating the risks associated with social media.  The larger the firm, the more complicated this effort becomes.

Large Firms Need More Than A Social Media Policy

According to a recent survey, 81% of Fortune 500 firms have a social media policy, addressing what is and what is not appropriate in terms of employee usage.  However, only 31% conduct formal training to address security policies and the appropriate usage of social media, both inside and outside of the workplace.

That’s a problem.  Social media is not well understood by everyone.  Employee misconduct does happen.  Without ongoing employee training, a social media policy is not nearly as useful as it could be.

Training Considerations

Training begins at the top.  All executives, managers, supervisors and human resources personnel should be thoroughly orientated to social media, it’s uses, and its potential mis-uses. To be an effective leader, every executive and manager needs to have social media literacy.

The company’s leaders should know the company social media policy, and be aware of how it will be monitored, and the consequences of non-compliance.  These staff members will be serving as role models and may be involved in enforcing the policy, so they should know how to do that with consistency.

The next step would be providing employee orientation and ongoing training  and communication.  Social media training and compliance is not a one-shot deal, to be provided only at a new employee’s orientation.  Employees use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube everyday. To protect the company’s interests, employees need to be repeatedly reminded (in creative and positive ways, when possible) about the boundaries of appropriate usage.

Monitoring: A Necessary Evil or Potential Legal Nightmare?

For a policy to work, however, it must be enforceable, and for most large firms, that involves some degree of employee monitoring to ensure that security breaches are not occurring, employees are remaining productive, and that there is compliance with the social media policy.

Monitoring is fraught with complications, however.  In addition to the resources that must be devoted, which can range in costs from $2 to $10 per employee per day, employees may resent monitoring of their social media usage after hours, and even in the workplace.  The monitoring systems are new, of course, and not infallible.  Even more seriously are the legal issues associated with employee monitoring, which vary from state to state.  The legal issues range from freedom of speech to fair employment practices.  Signed employee agreements may help offset the risks associated with employee monitoring, however.

Implementing social media in the workplace, particularly for larger firms, is an effort that has to involve participation from leadership, human resources, legal, marketing and communications, IT, and — often — risk management and security consultants.  The development of workable social media policies, workplace training programs, and monitoring systems are solutions that must be customized for each firm.

Given the potential risks and expenses, and rapidly changing platforms, it can be easier to understand why so many larger firms are reluctant to adopt social media outreach and access in the workplace.

Related articles

Dark Side of Social Media: Risks of Social Media in the Workplace

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Large firms especially tend to be reluctant to permit the use of social media in the workplace.  Roughly half of large firms surveyed prohibit the use of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter at work.

Why?  Employee violations are the biggest concern, the most prevalent being (in order):

  • Sharing offensive or obscene content
  • Disclosing confidential information
  • Sharing trade secrets and other valuable intellectual property
  • Disclosing healthcare or identity information, or financial data

Companies are increasingly investigating and disciplining employees for violations of the company social media policy.  In a survey last year,

  • 20% of firms investigated their employees for sharing confidential information via Facebook or LinkedIn
  • 25% investigated employees for sharing company information on blogs
  • 17% investigated employees for sharing company information on Twitter

Is the risk worth it?

Each company has to assess its own risk level and possible worst case scenarios.  For example, what confidential information could potentially be disclosed by an employee online?  What are the risks of employees sharing information that is not factual?  What about disgruntled employees, or whistle blowers?  Are corporate espionage or sabotage real concerns?  Social media could play a role in all these adverse situations.

  • Should employees be allowed to use social media at work for their own, personal use?  Or should it be restricted solely for work purposes?
  • Should employees be allowed to refer to the company while online?  Under what conditions?  What disclaimers should they use?
  • Will employee use of social media and compliance with social media policies be monitored, and if so, when and how?  Will they be monitored at work?  After hours, as well?
  • What will be the consequences of violations with the corporate social media policy?

Many large and well-known companies do not allow their employees to access social media at work at all.  However, just as with companies that provide open access to social media, employees still require guidance, workplace training and a clear social media policy that clarifies the boundaries of their participation during non-work hours on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn, as it relates to their employment and the company.

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