Social media in the workplace: How it can grow (or harm) your small business

Social media in the workplace is a hot topic. With Millennials being the largest generation in the workforce—and Gen Z set to take that title by 2027—these digitally savvy employees can either grow or harm your small business with social media. It may seem like you can’t live with it, but in this digital age, you certainly can’t live without it. 

In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into the world of social media in the workplace. We look at what social media is, the pros and cons of using social media at work, and the legalities surrounding employees using it at work.

What is social media?

Social media refers to websites and applications that share ideas, media, and information amongst online communities. But really, it’s just a way to create and share content with people using technology. 

The biggest and most common social media platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Apps like TikTok and LinkedIn are steadily rising as well. At current numbers, more than 4.7 billion people—about 60% of the world’s population—use social media. 

Let’s break it down even further. According to Global Web Index, “In early 2023, 94.8% of users accessed chat and messaging apps and websites, followed closely by social platforms, at 94.6% of users. Search engine sites were next, with 81.8% of users accessing them.” 

That’s a lot of people: a lot of people who could have their eyes on your small business. That’s also a lot of distraction for people—including your employees—who are supposed to be focused on other things.

So, how do you take advantage of all of the good and prevent all of the bad of social media at work?

Social media in the workplace

There’s no denying it: social media in the workplace is here to stay. And it has real functions for small businesses.

1. It’s a powerful top of funnel marketing tool

It’s no secret that social media is a huge indirect marketing tool. Small businesses can use organic or paid marketing through social media to attract and nurture new customers. It’s one of the easiest ways for people to learn about your business.

Let’s say you’ve got an Instagram account for your restaurant and you post about a 2-for-1 special you’re having. You can use a hashtag like #2for1special to draw attention, you can geolocate your business in case someone is looking for something to eat in your area, or you can ask current customers to post about their night out and tag your business—which reaches 20 of their friends who all live close enough to come in and try your special. #organicmarketing

Having a pop-up event? We love it. Why not post about it on social media to really get the word out? And of course, make sure you tag other vendors in attendance to have the reshare and increase visibility.

Want to drive further sales, and have a little room in the budget? You can use paid ads through Instagram to boost your post so even more eyes get on your business.

Using social media to reach more people means more sales. It’s just math.

2. It drives direct sales

Yes, social media can grow your customer base for your small business, but it can also drive direct sales.

Retail stores can post products they sell directly to their Instagram account and have people order products right from the social media app. Gone are the days of needing to purchase items in person.

If you’ve grown your audience through social media, and they’ve become customers, now you can make it even easier for them to purchase from you. You can make announcements about upcoming sales and new product alerts, and set up alerts for when a special promotion begins so they get pinged on their phone. It’s also easy to keep them posted about other big events, like opening a second location, or a job fair you’ll be hiring at.

Remember how many people in the world are on social? Use that to your advantage for your bottom line.

3. It helps your customers know, like, and trust you

Many business owners are getting creative on TikTok because it’s one of the best social platforms to up the know, like, and trust factor for your small business.

A stylist can record the process of a color correction on a client’s hair. A construction business can record their process for inspecting sites and what they look for in materials. A daycare can give a video tour of their space––without showing the faces of the kiddos, of course. All of these videos show your customers that you know what you’re talking about, which builds trust. 

People are much more likely to purchase from a company they feel they know.

4. It connects small businesses with their customers

Using the in-app tools that social media offers can connect you with your customers in real time. Many small businesses use messenger tools to offer customer support and outreach.

You can have conversations with your customers and address any complaints as soon as they arise. If you don’t have a dedicated social media person at your small business, you may need to set some hard boundaries around when these messages get answered (more on that later), but customers really value one on one conversations with business owners. Again, it builds the trust factor.

Social media marketing is an invaluable tool for small businesses who need every advantage they can get to get their business in front of more ideal customers and grow their audience.

What are the cons of using social media in the workplace?

Pew Research did a large study to find out how employees are using social media in the workplace and found a wide range of reasons:

  • 34% to take a mental break from their job
  • 27% to connect with friends and family while at work
  • 24% to make or support work connections
  • 20% to get information that helps them solve problems at work
  • 17% to build or strengthen personal relationships with coworkers
  • 17% to learn about someone they work with

While many of these reasons can have their advantages, there’s no question that all of this can distract from the actual job they should be performing.

Let’s take a look at the three biggest cons of using social media in the workplace that could harm your small business.

1. Social media reduces productivity drastically

1 in 4 employees say they get distracted by social media sites while at work. What’s more is that 90% of employers believe that social media, emailing, and texting is reducing productivity at work. Those are some big numbers.

The myth of multitasking as productive has been debunked. So, checking your social media while trying to do a job just isn’t possible. Something’s gotta give: and that’s usually the job. When we’re distracted by things like social media, we’re much less productive than when we’re able to focus on the task at hand.

2. Social media can be a reputation killer

While social media can bring positive attention to your business, it can also bring negative attention—and fast. If a customer has a negative experience with your small business, social media can amplify that experience. 

That’s saying nothing about employee misuse of social media. If an employee posts an inappropriate video from work—playing pranks on co-workers, unhygienic food practices, making fun of customers—whether you like it or not, it represents your business.

Social media is a speedy content form. People can post a video or reviews in the heat of the moment without much thought to the long-lasting effects on your viability as a business. One short disagreement can mean long-term damage control.

3. Social media in the workplace can mean needing to be ‘bad cop’

Whether you allow social media use in the workplace or not, there needs to be a thorough social media policy for employees created around its use at work. And with a policy comes enforcement.

Did you know? 70% of businesses reported having to take disciplinary action against employees for social media misuse.

From casual scrolling while on the clock to sharing inappropriate content, you really do have better things to do than police social media use at work. No one likes being the ‘bad cop’.

What are the pros of employees using social media in the workplace?

We don’t want to scare you away from using social media at work though. It really does have a time and place that can help you grow your business. Aside from some of the functions we mentioned above, here are three ways social media use at work can help your small business.

1. Social media can build and strengthen team connections

Have you ever heard of the term ‘Facebook stalk’? It isn’t as ominous as it sounds. It just means that someone looked someone up on Facebook to learn more about them. 14% of employees said they found information about a coworker that actually improved their impression of them.

But socials aren’t just used to find out info about the new kid on the block at work. They’re an easier and safer way to connect with coworkers. Adding someone on Instagram is better than automatically handing over your phone number.

82% of employees say social media can improve their working relationships. Having employees who connect on a personal level at work can create a team—a team that’s engaged at work. A team that’s invested in doing a good job. And a team that, you know, likes each other. That’s pretty great for you, right? So let your employees build strong relationships over social media. The data says it will only help your business.

If you’re still hesitant to use social media as a way to connect with your team, the Homebase team communication tool may be the answer for your small business. You can add group chats or personal chats, introduce new team members, and allow your employees to connect through a managed communication app.

2. Employees as brand ambassadors on socials

We mentioned earlier that Millennials and Gen Z make up the majority of the workforce. These are the generations of growing up in a digital age with a cell phone in their hand. They’re always at the forefront of social media innovation. So why don’t you use that to your advantage?

Your employees can become your best brand ambassadors. If social media makes your head spin, hire one of your social media savvy employees to shoot creative content while at work–on the clock, of course. Encouraging their passion for social media and engagement can help build solid awareness for your brand.

Run a retail store? Get your employees to create transition videos using your products.

Own a bar with an awesome bar menu? Have a bartender break down how they mix one of your most popular drinks.

Own a hospitality business? Have your team introduce themselves as the front line for your business.

Creating content aside, many employees have more followers than the business they actually work for. Allowing them to shoot occasional B-roll footage during their shift and tagging your small business can grow your audience.

There are so many ways that your employees can be your biggest brand ambassadors on social media. 

3. Sometimes your employees just need a mental break

It happens. Certain shifts can just take the wind right out of you. With 34% of employees from the Pew Research study saying they use social media to take a mental break from their job, it’s best to just let them.

Want a refreshed team? When your employees are on break, they need to unwind to be at their best when that timer goes off. Let them use social media to do that. Some employees will use it to escape, some to connect with their friends, some to be entertained; whatever the reason, let them.

If getting a mental break from everything that’s happening on the floor helps them be their best selves when they step back out, that seems like a win to us.

Homebase can help you stay on top of using social media at work

If you choose to use social media to grow your business and allow its use by your employees, you’re going to need an airtight social media in the workplace policy.

You’re going to want to think about:

  • When and where employees are allowed on their personal social media
  • What the messaging is behind any mention of the company on social media
  • Who’s in charge of running the socials for your small business
  • What content can and can’t be posted on employees’ socials about their jobs—like, can they make a skit of customer interaction on TikTok for entertainment?
  • What’s considered sensitive information and should never be shared on social media

Once you’ve created the policy, you’re going to need to get everyone on your team to sign it and store it in a cloud-based system where everyone can reference it when needed. Homebase can help you do that.

Another consideration is that, according to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employees will need to be paid for creating and posting content that has been approved by the business. This counts as hours worked. 

You’re going to need to figure out a way to accurately track that time, because it won’t necessarily all take place on the job site. We recommend using the Homebase time clock app so your employees can easily clock in and out from their phones when taking the time to shoot, edit, and post content.

There’s no use fighting the inevitable. Social media at work is here to stay. But you can make it work for you and your employees. It’s an amazing opportunity for you to embrace your team’s talents and grow your revenue. And that seems like a good idea to us.

Want to stay on top of social media in the workplace?

Homebase has an entire suite of tools that can help. From a time clock app to track hours used to create social posts to HR and compliance support for trickier ins and outs when socials are being misused, we’re here to help. Learn more today.

Social media in the workplace FAQs 

What is social media?

Social media is a group of applications and websites where users can post creative content, either in written or media form, and share it in communities. The most popular applications are Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Twitter.

Why should my small business care about social media use at work?

Your small business should care about social media use at work because it really can either help or harm your business. When used appropriately, it can grow your brand awareness and your sales. When misused, it can ruin your reputation, reduce productivity, and breed resentment. You are going to want to learn ways to use it to help your business and set policies to prevent it from harming you.

How do I control social media usage at work?

You can’t necessarily control social media usage at work. Some businesses install social media blockers on computers, but when everyone has a phone in hand, there’s not much you can do. You’ve got to work with your team instead of against them. Make your expectations clear. Utilize their skills to grow your business. Encourage them to get creative and innovate new ways to use social media at work.

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