According to a US survey on employee use of social media in the workplace, published by HR software and services company Silk Road, there’s an encouraging picture emerging of how employers approach the overall topic.

“We found that a substantial percentage of companies had completely open social media access,” says the survey report infographic (which you can see at the end of this post). While I broadly agree with that sentiment, the details show some hard work still ahead to help everyone – employer and employee – really understand the pros and cons of social media usage in the workplace.

For instance:

  • 16% of companies still block access to social networks in the workplace.
  • 24% of companies have no policy or guidelines on using social media.
  • Only 7% provide employee training.

I believe that if an employer enables or permits employees to use social media in the workplace, the employer has a clear responsibility to provide guidance to employees on best or effective use, along with the rules of the road.

Enablement without the confidence in use that comes with understanding both the tools and the role they play in what an empowered employee does surely makes little sense.

What should an employer do? It is this simple:

  1. Establish the framework under which employees can use social media in their workplace.
  2. Invite employees to participate in creating the guidelines that make it clear what the ground rules are.
  3. Communicate them to employees in a way that they clearly understand.
  4. The responsibility for this is yours, as are the consequences without clear guidelines.

By the same token, an employee should think about this:

  1. Use your own common sense on what you say about your employer and issues in your workplace, whether you use social media to talk or engage with colleagues internally or your community publicly.
  2. The responsibility for this is yours, as are the consequences if you don’t use your common sense.

On the matter of blocking access to social media channels, the survey infographic quotes a Gartner report saying that the number of organizations doing this is dropping by about 10 percent per year. That’s good news; the infographic also says 50 percent of companies did this in 2010, a figure that’s expected to reduce to 30 percent by 2014.

I hope it’s a sustainable trend.

While the numbers involved in the survey are relatively small – Silk Road says 1,000 employees were surveyed – I think they’re useful in seeing a picture of practice and behaviours in many organizations.

And while I believe the topic of social media in the workplace is part of a far bigger picture that embraces organization culture, change and behaviours, corporate and individual – all wrapped up under various guises typically labelled as “social business,” “social enterprise,” etc – a survey like this highlights at least a practical start point that is very simple to plan and execute, even if it can look like tinkering or tweaking rather than addressing the pressing issues related to organization change.

Silk Road offers their full research report in exchange for you giving them your contact information.

(Via MediaBistro)

Full infographic below (it’s big…)