In every aspect of a manager’s job, knowledge is power. Thankfully, the advancements of technology and introduction of social media have made that knowledge more abundant and accessible.

Ron Segura, owner of Segura & Associates, Burlingame, Calif., says he uses social media to network with business associates and to dispense information. He stresses social media’s networking capabilities are where custodial operations stand to benefit the most.

“Facility managers can be exposed to a greater variety of service providers where they can gain answers to problems or issues they are dealing with in their facilities,” he explains. “Facility managers can be kept up-to-date on the latest technologies and methods that impact their jobs.”

Justin Goodman, head custodian at Hot Springs School District in Rapid City, S.D., agrees, stating while social media’s use is relatively new to him; he’s already benefited from greater access to information.

“There’s a plethora of information out there from industry consultants, focus groups and one-on-one messaging with peers,” he says. “If you have a problem, you can find the answers online.”

Cleaning products and equipment change rapidly as the industry races to embrace emerging technologies. And, it can be hard to wade through the sea of new offerings to find the ones that work well and fit the janitorial operation’s specific needs. Research via social media sites can uncover information that aids in making purchasing decisions.

“When looking at new products, you can go to social media and bounce ideas off of other colleagues. You can access product reviews. You can even see demonstrations on how these products work,” Goodman says.

This is one of the primary benefits of social media, says Chris Terrell, consultant at IAT Consulting Services, Fayetteville, Ark. “You can talk to others about what they’ve tried, what their experiences have been, and that can guide your own purchasing decisions.”

Ducks In A Row

With all the benefits, there remain a few challenges to overcome in terms of using social media. For instance, which social sites are most beneficial? What information should be posted and how frequent?

Experts recommend cleaning operations consider the overall goal when selecting a social site. LinkedIn is traditionally used for networking between professionals, so this is a great site for communicating with industry peers. Facebook and Twitter are used universally, so these are great sites to communicate to the masses.

Regardless of which site is used, custodial professionals must streamline the best use of space and what information is most appropriate for communication.

For instance, the social sites can disseminate general information on green cleaning or new processes. But during the H1N1 scare, such posts might have included articles on the illness, Centers for Disease Control updates, hand washing information and more.

In addition to what information is featured, the successful use of social sites will also be based on frequency of information. This will depend on the people involved, the time available and the urgency of the message.

“In Seattle, people don’t seem to care if you update all the time. It’s not a big deal,” Terrell says. “But in the Northeast, where people are very tech savvy, they want updates every day. You need to have good valid content on a fairly regular basis.”

Tread Lightly

Just as incomplete or infrequent information can cause problems, improper or overuse of social sites can also occur.

“I do think over usage can become a problem,” says Goodman. “This is phenomenal technology with many benefits, but we need to develop policies to prevent its misuse.”

Before wading into the social media sea, attorney Tom Godar, with Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek’s Madison, Wis.-based office, says custodial operations need to develop a relevant social media policy.

“You need to understand the implications and how it affects you,” he says. Custodial operations need to:
• Recognize that people, including employees, are using social media.
• Outline what is allowable within the work environment.
• Develop policies regarding how employees are going to interact on social media in the workplace.
• Develop policies on acceptable social media relationships between employees.

For the best results, departments are encouraged to share their policies and procedures, but experts warn that what works for one facility, might not always work for another. Policies should be consistent with the organization’s own culture.

Policies should address appropriate use of the media and the fact that there’s no expectation of privacy with on-the-job use.

“An effective policy provides guidelines on what employees can do in that space and places limitations on that activity when using company property to communicate on it,” Godar says.

Policy is meaningless however without solid education on social media’s use.

“At the very least you need to educate employees about how what they do online impacts the operation,” he says. “For instance, if a facility manager posts a picture of himself partying on his Facebook profile and is a fan of the operation’s Facebook page, every other fan of that page sees that inappropriate picture. The personal lives of those involved need to be kept separate, and their personal pages need to reflect a positive image if they’re linking to the company’s fan page.”

Once the wrinkles have been ironed out, get out there and do it, experts say. Before long, you’ll find yourself atwitter over social media, too.  

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

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