#SocialMedia: A Must for our Jobs?

Curse or blessing, nerve-wracking blabber or meaningful information? The range of opinions about social media is as broad and diverse as the number of channels available. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, WhatsApp, LinkedIn and Xing – there is no doubt about it: More and more people are using one or more of these platforms to communicate and exchange information with others. And this applies to both private and work-related matters – there is virtually no way of separating them. Is that an opportunity or a risk?


Twitter Chatter and Selfie Hype

The world raises its eyebrows every time the man in the White House takes to Twitter. No other government leader uses social media as extensively as Donald Trump. Not a day goes by without the president using his smartphone to tell the world how he sees things from the Oval Office: The messages are usually brash and insulting, and seldom thoughtful and politically correct. Wolfgang Schäuble, President of the Bundestag (German Parliament), is rather fed up with all the Twitter chatter and selfie hype, which is why he proposes banning the use of smartphones during legislative sessions and debates. Not everyone agrees with him. One of his main critics is Dorothee Bär, State Minister for Digitization:


Social media, when used correctly, can be equated with the glass dome of our parliament building, which is a symbol that promotes transparency.

Enterprise wide transparency?

But just what is the “correct use” of social media, especially when applied to your workplace and daily business? Who defines the rules governing what is permissible and what not? Who decides what is desirable and what is not acceptable? The YOU AND ME (YAM network) in operation at Deutsche Telekom is one of the largest internal social networks in Europe. More than 120,000 employees are registered to use this platform, where they contribute own content and comments to support the transparency of internal processes. One thing is very noticeable: There are very few users in this network who communicate in the style of Donald Trump. And if someone should forget the rules of good manners, the community reacts quickly to remind everyone about the importance of civility and appreciation among colleagues. This is peer pressure at its finest – a corrective force beyond guidelines and policies of conduct.

Waste of valuable time?

The impressive scope and popularity of YAM can, however, also be seen as a major weakness. It’s not always easy for users to find their way around: More than 33,000 groups can make navigating through YAM rather difficult. And that provides a lot of ammunition for critics who claim that the platform is unproductive. “It is a waste of time which could be better invested in actual work,” a critic recently told me (and that individual will probably also see the length of this article as a confirmation of his opinion).

Factor culture for organisations

But organization experts say that such criticism is nonsense. The use of social networks, internally and externally, is an important culture factor for enterprises and promotes their business image considerably. In light of the remarkable developments in communication over the past few years, ignoring social networks would be counterproductive.

“Daily work routines will continue to be massively impacted by social networks and technologies – and those employees who know how to use these technologies productively will have many advantages,”

says blogger and social media expert Jan Firsching. According to professors at Harvard, social network platforms will promote collaboration and are key to breaking down silo structures. This can be accomplished if social media are not used merely as platforms for reflective thinking and the dissemination of opinions: They will help businesses if they provide concrete content that is helpful for employees.

For many so-called digital natives, having the opportunity to tweet while on the job is a decisive factor when choosing an employer. Enterprises that restrict the use of social media at work are also having difficulty recruiting young talents. It should come as no surprise that businesses like Telekom are increasingly reaching out to potential new employees via Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn (“Telekom Career”).

Muzzles for blabbermouths?

One important question remains: As an employee, what can I talk about via social media at work, and what should I avoid talking about? What is confidential? It is one thing if I send out tweets or post information at the request of the company, as the colleagues at “Telekom helps” do. But it is something quite different if I discuss internal company matters via my private/personal social media channels. Just think about it: Today you might be on Facebook talking about the fantastic company Christmas party, and tomorrow the subject might be displeasure about restructuring measures within your department – there is a fine line between the ambassador who burnishes the company’s image and the critic whose acerbic complaining hurts the reputation of the enterprise. How should a company deal with this? Hand out muzzles for blabbermouths? That’s not a solution. Pointing out the non-disclosure clauses contained in most work contracts is neither much help. Such things are hard to enforce even if employees have pledged their loyalty to the company by signing the document. And those who want to display loyalty to their employer by using social networks to disparage the competition should be extremely careful – they may be subject to legal action and accused of defamation by the business whose image was damaged. Guidelines and policies alone are not enough for guaranteeing how social networks are used. Most important is having a culture of appreciation and responsibility within a company. And good common sense always helps.

Think first, then be funny

Another phenomenon is also a matter of concern: Many people seem to think that they must be humorously clever or funny when using Facebook, Twitter, etc. – whether at home or at work. It is true that humorous messages travel very quickly through social media, but in many cases the quality of the content ranges from “not very funny” to “absolutely disgusting and off the mark.” Too much nonsense is not suited for professional contexts, and not everyone is able to interpret irony in the same way. Funny or silly remarks can really backfire, as many business enterprises have discovered the hard way. The social media editors at “Telekom helps” follow the motto “Think first and then be funny.” Oliver Nissen, who is responsible customer service at Social Media & Services, says that caution is the best policy:

In general we don’t react spontaneously, but we try to make it look like we do. Remember, everything we write is in Deutsche Telekom's name and our aim is to provide a top-notch service. Knee-jerk reactions are likely to do more damage than good.”



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