The last couple of years have seen a huge rise in the number of people using the social media platform of Twitter.

It was even made possible to tweet direct from court the decisions that had been made. With this ability to engage so directly with the public, however, comes many a potential nightmare for some employers. As such, the Cabinet Office has issued guidance for their Civil Servants on the dos and don'ts of social media. It's a necessary step and one that a lot of employers should be giving some serious thought.

Whilst Civil Servants are being encouraged to make the most out of social media they are also being advised to steer clear of certain controversial subjects that might upset the public. The report issued by the Cabinet Office accepts that being able to "communicate with citizens, consult and engage, and to be more transparent and accountable" are clear benefits to the use of social media. They have instigated a six-stage engagement cycle. The first stage had been for their Civil Servants to passively read the comments posted concerning their particular policy area, but the further stages involve engaging more with the public on these topics. This is where there is both massive potential to improve the service and the satisfaction the public received from it, but also potential danger should a comment on a delicate subject, for example, be made in the wrong way.

It's not just the possibility of a particular comment in reply to the public perhaps upsetting an individual that is a problem. There is also concern that those involved may feel the need to reply to all the comments and enquiries they might receive. This would obviously have a negative impact on their productivity in other areas of the job. Whilst social media may be becoming an increasingly important part of the job and one, which cannot be ignored, it should not take away from other, similarly important tasks. In this sense, it is all about getting the balance right between effective engagement in a way that can benefit the service and indeed any business hoping to reap the rewards of better placed engagement with their customers and, not letting that engagement stop you from achieving your wider goals.

Employees are also advised to think twice before sending out a personal tweet, this is true for most sectors and not just those in the public eye such as Civil Servants. This issue of a line between comments reflecting the views of the employer and those of the individual is also one that deserves some serious consideration. The guidance explains that, "in social media the boundaries between professional and personal can sometimes become more blurred - so it's important to be particularly careful. You are of course free to use social media in your own time but you need to be mindful of your duties not to disclose official information without authority, and not to take part in any political or public activity which compromises, or might be seen to compromise, your impartial service to the Government of the day or any future government." With the relative ease of being able to engage with the public comes also the ease of potentially getting into trouble. "Social media is a public forum and the same considerations apply as would, say, to speaking in public or writing something for publication either officially or outside of work," the guidance explains. This is a point that needs to be clear in the mid of all individuals involved and especially those expressly representing their company or brand.

There is less and less doubt that most, if not all businesses need to get on board with social media in some way. Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service, understands that "keeping abreast of new technology and new ways of communicating in a digital era are crucial to our ability to attract a new generation of talented people into the Service." Social media is a great tool for helping a lot aspects of different businesses as such time should be sent on thinking how best to effectively manage it for your business.

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