Author(s), Title and Publication

Opgenhaffen, M. and Claeys, A.-S. (2017). Between hope and fear: Developing social media guidelines. Employee Relations, 39(2), pp. 130–144. doi: 10.1108/er-04-2016-0086.


From an organizational perspective, social media has evolved from a communication tool focused on external stakeholder engagement to also include internal stakeholders. As such, this study examines the rationale behind employers’ policy regarding employees’ social media use. Specifically, the authors examine the extent to which employers allow the use of social media in the workplace, what opportunities can be related to employees’ social media use, and how social media guidelines are implemented within organizations.

Through in-depth interviews of the communication and/or human resources managers of 16 publicly traded companies, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and subsidiaries of multinational in Belgium, the study analyzed employee social media use and employer response to social media use. Findings posit social media as a double-edged sword, with inherent benefits and equal opposing risks. Findings further point to a philosophical divide in terms of workplace social media use; permit or prohibit. Recognizing fundamental benefits of social media as a means of internal and external stakeholder dialogues, engagement, and relationship building, some organizations believe social media should be accessible to employees. Organizational concern over public/private boundary breaching, characteristic low content control, intellectual information leaking and productivity, proliferates vulnerability, fear and resultant social media guidelines, policies, limitations, and even bans. Limited use of social media as a strategic communication tool can be attributed more to limited resources, expertise, and stakeholder relevance than to disregard. The study further concluded respondents believe organizations can benefit from employees sharing work-related content with their own network, and from the sharing and retweeting of official corporate messages.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should 1) recognize the inevitable presence of social media to avoid asserting impractical social media guidelines. 2) Dialogue with employees with regard to social media demonstrates mutual trust and reciprocates employee dedication. 3) Employees can be the best ambassadors and can create substantial stakeholder engagement. 4) Workable social media guidelines create opportunity for employers in reducing risk exposure as well as for employees as a provision of information and a guide for behavior. 5) Social media guidelines benefit from cross functional and professional input and 6) enjoy maximum impact when coupled with positive employee-organization relationships.

Location of Article

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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