Social media: More harm than good?

Tracey Evans


written on August 17, 2015

Twitter and Facebook scandals that damage the reputations of companies and employees have become quite commonplace in recent years. Now a clutch of gossip apps and employer review websites could take the impact of social media – the good and the bad – to another level.

Apps such as Whisper, Memo and Canary allow employees to anonymously share short messages about their work or other employees. Employer review websites including Glassdoor, Vault, State and JobAdvisor are to companies what TripAdvisor is to travel and Urbanspoon is to restaurants, in that they provide cyberspaces for employees to write reviews, and they accompany them with rankings.

It’s difficult to gauge the responses to these new workplace social media offerings at this stage, but earlier this year Whisper claimed it had more than 10 million active users a month.

The gossip apps have gained notoriety from reports in the business press. A group of employers in the United States, for example, took legal action against Whisper last year, and some employers have reportedly banned their workers from accessing Memo.

Evidence of the apps’ presence in Australian workplaces is speculative, though.

Paula Nolan, head of Asia-Pacific operations at Hudson RPO, took a straw poll of clients in a number of industry sectors and found that the apps and review sites aren’t considered a big deal.

“The consensus was that, while they’re aware of the apps and sites, they don’t actively seek to monitor them,” she says. “I guess they’re not playing a big role in decision making and they don’t believe, at this moment in time, they’re having any impact on their brands. No-one is talking about them being influential.”

Nolan says her clients tend to use more sensitive, consumer-level social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, particularly in the graduate recruitment market, and even in that area, employer concerns have waned.

Michael Specht, head of HR services at HR technology consultancy Navigo, however, suspects use of these apps is becoming more prevalent. “It wouldn’t surprise me if employees in many major workplaces are using them.”

Added features

Glassdoor is the biggest and oldest employer review website. Founded in the United States in 2007, it has a growing presence in Australia and claims to have a worldwide database of six million company reviews, CEO ratings, salary reports, interview reviews, benefits reviews and office photos.

Glassdoor is clearly the leader, says Weiss, founder of career coaching and outplacement services CareerSupport365 and The First Few Seconds.

“I give it another year or two before this brand really takes a significant toehold in Australia,” he says.

The Australian site JobAdvisor has thousands of reviews, says CEO Justin Babet, who rejects the employer review tag. Instead, he prefers to describe JobAdvisor as a “culture-matching platform”.

Like Glassdoor, JobAdvisor has monetised itself by offering employers the option of a features-added paid subscription with which they can post more content. A page of employer information, including multimedia content, precedes any employee reviews.

It’s a chance for employers to “tell their story in a more transparent way”, says Babet, who comes from a recruitment background.

“One of the issues I found in recruitment was that it’s very easy for employers to sell ‘the dream’,” he says. “You want a good candidate, so you tend to say all the good stuff without necessarily talking about any of the challenges.

“A key challenge for employers is to create a great culture and an engaged workforce, and trust is the foundation of that. If you sell the big dream and fail to deliver on expectations once they start, you’ve lost their trust and it’s very difficult to get it back.

“That’s partly why we started. To help employers be more transparent with job candidates.”

Specht says the gossip apps actively work against workplace transparency.

“If an employer is collaborative, open and honest, and really wants to engage with its workforce, it needs to welcome criticism from its employees,” he says. “If employees don’t feel they can say it face-to-face, you’re not really a very transparent company.”

Specht says tools such as Yammer, the ‘Facebook for business’, can help promote transparency.

“When Deloitte Australia rolled out Yammer – it’s one of the world’s biggest users of Yammer – there was a scenario where the employees didn’t like a new travel expense rate. Talk about a company that’s transparent. The employees took to Yammer and discussed it, went to management and talked about it as an organisation, openly and constructively, and the policies were changed.”

Specht believes that, had the discussion occurred via an anonymous gossip app, it could have turned “downright nasty”.

“I doubt Deloitte’s response would have been the same if all it had seen was anonymous bitching, rather than the practical suggestions it was presented with as a result of the Yammer discussion.”

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the August 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Bad mouth’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here

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