Reflections from the Social Media Sewer Pipe


I’m in conference mode physically and virtually. We are coming up on the next HRevolution this weekend. Symbolic maybe? Because of HRevolution and the social media influencers I’m so lucky to be associated with I have found myself in the trenches trying to motivate my local and regional SHRM membership to see the value of social media in business rather than seeing it as just a way to invite lawsuits and trash your company. I will not be attending HRevolution in LasVegas. Not possible with my upcoming travel schedule. And I have been a bit out of the loop with this HRev cycle, focused more on off-line doing rather than strategizing about it. I’m envious of those headed to Sin City. I look forward to the hours of blog post reading to come.

Social Media is a Business Tool, I Promise

There is a lot of great information out there on how to apply social media to business as an engagement tool. Tons of HR bloggers are in the mix now, seeing the Internet as a vehicle for their voice. And even SHRM itself no longer ignores the online world as a way to connect, motivate, disseminate and engage. State SHRM conferences are blossoming with technology and social media plans as a way to motivate attendees. And it allows non-attendees to take a peek at what they might have missed out on, boosting SHRM membership interest. I’m encouraged by what I see and read online. There are more and more people who GET that Human Resources must be the business leader to guide their organizations through the use of social media. But, at my TN State Conference I was faced with the reality that there is not enough off-line work helping businesses see and understand social media’s value.

Roundtable Reality

This could not have been more apparent than at the legal roundtable at TN SHRM. But, let me work backwards through my experience first. The conference was great. I mostly attended sessions that were geared toward employee motivation, differences and technology. Jake Greene did talk about engaging Gen Y and Millennials through social media. I was in the presence of the friendly crowd and in my element as a designer of recognition pieces. All speakers had interesting digital footprints with engaging, good marketing resourcefully tied to their presentations.

But, the one session I found most enlightening was the legal roundtable. It was a great set-up with topics and lawyers ready to give free legal advice in 30 min clips. Of course I chose the social media table and tips on writing a social media policy. (I also went to the table about workforce planning.) My intention was to listen to “the other side”. And listen I did. I was pleasantly surprised at the practical points of view presented. Specifically, “Social media policy should be tailored to culture.” YES! Brilliant! And they explained mutually protected activity. Basically if everyone is trash talking work on Facebook it is a protected activity as long as your content is not harassment, discrimination or revealing intellectual property. A policy is good practice to outline what is expectations of  your EE’s when they talk about work online. It is all reputation awareness for both the individual and the business.

But, the lawyer’s presentation did not start out as well as it ended. The round table began with the pitch. It was a power point talking about the ‘why you should have a social media policy.’ It was based in fear as the motivator to take action and illustrated with a sewer pipe. Yep. You heard right. A sewer pipe photo illustrating that the information flowing through social media is nothing more than shit. And then a picture of a manure spreader popped up illustrating how this sewer of information spreads. To me it illustrated the uphill perception battle that there is nothing of value being published through social media. They see it as a pure social, entertainment and marketing tool. It is a waist of time, not a business tool. Big mistake.


After the lawyer finished, many of the questions revolved around Labor Board and protected conversation. Then I introduced myself as the Social Media Outreach VP at Middle Tennessee SHRM. I immediately told him I did not share his view that all social media was a sewer pipe. He was a bit embarrassed. I asked if he tweeted or was on Facebook. He did not. So I respectfully asked that I hoped he or someone in his office would be involved in social media as a way to best advise their clients. Because policy should not only address negative outcomes but educate on positive practices. I specifically addresses a point in their policy that tells management not to friend employees on Facebook. I asked why? And told him managers should be trained to engage employees at all levels in order to foster communication. There was more. But, this post is going long. I did behave and did enjoy the conversation. Hoping his take-away was as productive as mine.

Lead Out of Fear & Into Education

Congrats again to the Chattanooga SHRM chapter for putting on a fine conference. And I look forward to following some of the HRevolution twitter stream this weekend. My hope is that the HR strategists in Las Vegas will put some more thought into reaching the offline world. HR needs help to better understand how they must take a leadership role in social media policy. Application needs to revolve around expectation, understanding the tool and education, not fear. I love lawyers can see the business application of social media is unique to the business culture and brand it represents. That is progress. Then maybe the next time I see a power point image representing social media I will see a stock photo of two business people shaking hands, not a sewer pipe.

Sewer throw rugs available somewhere online.


6 Responses

  1. Brad Says:


    I am glad you spoke up and asked that an inclusive viewpoint on social media be considered from the legal perspective. It is important that those of us involved with social media raise up the good smelling stuff from the bad that is, unfortunately, out there as well.


  2. lynhoytbacon Says:

    Thanks Brad for the support! It really is the difference between seeing social media as something for the trash can or the tool box. Yep, some deserves the trash can. But, until a social media policy writer is seeing all sides, how affective can the policy really be?

  3. CareySue Vega Says:

    I love the statement, “understanding the tool and education, not fear.” So many people jump to the conclusion that something is bad just because they don’t completely understand it. Continuing education is key and keeping current is critical! Loved the post.

  4. chris Says:


    Keep doing this sort of thing, the message is getting out the influence is spreading. We will get TN up to the challenge.

  5. Charlie Judy Says:

    if you’re in charge of organizational design, communications, or human resources – or have some reasonable impact on the same – and still struggling with whether Social Media is a relevant business tool or not, you’re screwed. just screwed. time to move on…it’s a business tool, use it.

  6. Jessica Miller-Merrell Says:


    What you are doing is so very valuable. We have to assert ourselves and ask the hard questions to make the lawyers understand and our peers be willing to listen. I hate that we are having this battle but I am so proud of you and others for stepping up.

    I actually met an employment law attorney that presented social media in a really great way. He was so awesome that I tweeted a marriage proposal to him. We need more employment law attorneys to get it along with more HR social media evangelists out there to help re-educate the profession.

    Hats off to you.


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