Several years ago I attended an industry conference for a technology organization  where I attended a number of workshops having to do with how to utilize and manage various technologies that were really beginning to impact our business. Smart phones, social media, changing expectations of consumers and employees, were among the topics addressed.

One session presented by a senior-level IT person covered the use of social media by businesses. It struck me from the start that IT seemed to be the wrong perspective to take on this subject until I discovered that his overriding point was around the ways he blocked social media access to the employees. He discussed the risks associated with giving staff open access to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like. Then he began telling some horror stories about gaps in security that had happened to other companies as a result of a lax policy.

This was about five years ago, and the insurance industry was still very wary of social media. I knew that eventually the tides would turn and businesses would be forced to open the portals, albeit with some protective measures in place.

Along the way, social media’s impact on businesses, relationships, communities, nations and the world at large became more apparent every day. A startling example of this was observed and written about in an ebook called “The Social Revolution” by Barry Libert, a social media thought leader.

In his book, Libert describes how the 2013 rebellion in the Middle East was fueled by a wellorganized and passionate group of people through the use of social media (Twitter, in particular) and mobile technology:

As the events in Egypt and Tunisia have shown people can organize through social networks–and even when governments shut down the Internet, protesters can find ways to circumvent those (and other) defenses. What we’ve seen in Libya, Yemen, Iran, Syria, and even China is that brutal crackdowns lead to almost certain failure. But, in the end, social movements encourage the open expression of ideas and affirms the passions and desires of people leading to their ability to connect, revolt, and overturn those in power.

The corollary here with business is that a corporate revolution is coming and if companies aren’t prepared for it, aren’t open to it and accepting of it, their future is likely uncertain.

During these same past five years, social media’s influence over marketing, hiring and personal development has become enormous.

A recently published report by Proskauer Rose LLP (http://www.proskauer.com) entitled Social Media in the Workplace Around the World 3.0 shows that nearly 90% of all companies now use social media for business purposes. This is a marked increase over just a few years prior. In addition, businesses are using social media in a much more sophisticated and widespread way across the entire enterprise than previously.

At the same time, the survey discovered that most businesses have had to deal with social media misuse and have taken disciplinary action. Logically, as a result, it has spawned an increase in the development of social media policies: from 60% to nearly 80% within just the last year.

This increase in issues around employee access to social media might be why the survey also found that more employers are actually blocking access at work: from 29% in 2012 to 36% in 2013. It’s this dichotomy of company practices—growing in the marketing and hiring areas, while shrinking in the staff access—that is creating the greatest challenge for businesses.

Insurance agents are not immune to these issues. You’re pulling from the same pool of prospective employees, you’re marketing to the same consumer base and, if you’re smart and leveraging social media, you’re utilizing the same social platforms. So how do you deal with the push/pull of the current standing of social media?

There are three areas you need to address:

  1. Policy and procedures
  2. Software tools to help manage
  3. Recognize that direction this is heading.

Policy and procedures

As with any employee policy, your social media policy should be explicit, clear and prominently accessible. The policy should govern employee behavior and provide approved examples of appropriate and inappropriate use of various platforms. Your employees are your public face and, despite the current trends toward accessibility the survey found, I believe that will not be long lived.

Companies need to be better prepared to fully engage social media throughout the organization.

When I first began hiring staffers of the generation where benefits other than salary were the perks that resonated, it was an eye-opening lesson to learn. Now, something as natural as social media access and the freedom to use it are expected. In fact, good, well-balanced social media policies should include time for employees to relax. Catching up on your posts is the modern version of taking a smoking break. Building short breaks into the day for employees to check on Facebook or Pinterest or to tweet something will go a long way to helping workers focus more on the tasks at hand when they come off their break.

Invest, don’t investigate

Reviewing a job candidate’s social media activities before hiring is a good idea that can help you uncover trouble before it becomes yours. But once you make the decision to bring a new employee on board, you should invest in their success rather than continue investigating their social lives.

However, as part of good customer service and brand management practice, you should be monitoring the mentions of your agency on the Internet. You can do that with something as simple as Google Alerts, which lets you enter search parameters like your agency name to receive automatic email alerts when Google comes across a mention.

Search for your agency name on all social media platforms to see what’s out there that you didn’t post yourself.

When you come across something, either positive or negative, respond. If it’s positive, thank them and consider reposting it. If it came from an employee, support that kind of positive activity. If you come across a complaint, engage that person, find out what happened, and try to resolve the issue or make it up to them. The key is to take the conversation offline. Direct message them, then do whatever you can to convert them to a fan.

Another step to take for positive social engagement is to invest in education. Don’t assume your employees know all about using social media in a company environment, no matter what their age. Bring in professionals to teach the entire organization about how to best use social media and respect the powerful influence it can have.