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What Social Media Gag Orders Say About Leadership

Image of bird resembling Twitter

According to Payscale, 42% of companies prohibit employees from using social media to talk about their organizations. Another 53% have established guidelines for how to use social media. What do these different approaches say about leadership styles and their impact on employee and customer relationships?

The folks over at Gallup Press would tell probably you that executives who have given the social media gag order have done so out of fear—a primary motivator for the desire to maintain control. According to a study released in 2011, 50% of all American workers are held ‘prisoner’ by their employers. These people do not have the latitude to use judgment or speak up at work because management exercises some form of control.

Employers: Please take note. Just because you forbid a behavior doesn’t mean you’ll get compliance. In fact, a controlling style sets the stage for hard feelings and rebellion—especially when it comes to social media.

Obscurity in Social Networks

While employers may take an employee’s voice away in the work environment, what people do at home is a different matter. Sure, employees who publicly complain about their boss, customers, or company on social networks jeopardize employment status. Frankly, public bashing of of this nature is a low class move.

That said, people have an emotional need to express their frustrations. Executives who prohibit the use of social networks clearly do not understand how these networks function. According to PEW Research Center,* only 45% of social networkers post using their own name. Nealy as many (41%) use a screen name to create some level of obscurity. The remainder post anonymously.

Compound those statistics with the number of people who actively manage privacy settings (70%) or create duplicate accounts and you begin to see the problem. Those employees who want to say something negative about your company will do so, and probably without your knowledge.

Mandates or Guidelines?

Rather than trying to legislate behavior through edicts, leaders could strive to develop loyalty. There’s a significant difference in business philosophy between the leaders who issue mandates and those who issue guidelines to trusted employees. Loyal employees will not intentionally say things to harm their companies. Moreover, providing guidelines helps create a feeling of inclusion and ensures consistent messaging when your people speak up on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and all of the other places people gather in cyberspace.

As we noted in Monday’s blog, managers who try to control people and outcomes are much less likely to succeed in any endeavor. Your people are online and commenting anyway. You want to foster a positive communications platform they can use effectively on your behalf. Oh, and CEOs who tweet regularly build trust with customers and employees alike. A thriving social media community translates to raving fans inside and outside of the company.

And now for the really cool infographic from Payscale:

Do Employers 'Like' Social Media?

* May 26, 2010.
© 2012. All rights reserved.

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