Our new place to complain about the boss: Everywhere

August 7, 2012: 10:32 AM ET

Management experts are beginning to argue that social media is intensifying worker dissatisfaction. So, in a socially networked world, what exactly must bosses do differently?

By Gary M. Stern

FORTUNE -- Complaining about the boss is a time-honored tradition. But management experts and analysts are beginning to argue that social media is intensifying this dissatisfaction (or at least shining a brighter light on it), which is affecting how some managers lead.

A recent survey of 1,013 American office workers by Wakefield Research revealed the two qualities that vex employees the most about their managers: 37% said that bosses who steal employees ideas are the most frustrating, while 33% said the bosses who think they know it all took the prize.

Nathan Richter, lead pollster on the Wakefield Research study, said that in a world where most everything these days is shared online, "We want the credit when we share ideas with our boss." So, in a socially networked world, what exactly must bosses do differently?

Many employees now have the equivalent of their very own broadcasting platform through social networks, explains Jill Geisler, author of Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know. Because many employees are building their brand online, they require proof of their accomplishments. "If your boss is taking credit, you have no proof," she said.

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The manager needs to become "the spokesperson for the team," Geisler says. Through social, the manager has to become a cheerleader and PR agent for the team, touting their accomplishments and detailing their individual achievements.

In fact, the cutting edge manager has already added "follower" to their job description by now, argues Barry Libert, author of Social Nation and CEO of Open Matters, a Boston, MA-based social media consulting firm. The most perceptive managers "follow" their staff on Facebook and Twitter to understand the concerns of customers and employees on the front line.

"Managers must think about how their one-on-one employee relations can spread through networks," explains Brian Uzzi, a leadership professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. Missteps can damage a manager's and a company's reputation.

Managers can also use social media as a resource, Uzzi suggests. Employees can bounce ideas off of friends and even recruit them too. Employees should also extend their networks beyond their friends who think like them and reach out to people who are creative in different ways.

Social networks can also help to break barriers between different departments at firms, says Charlene Li, founder and analyst at the Altimeter Group, a market research firm. Li says many managers find the "transparency of social media terrifying." Managers threatened by the prospect of relinquishing control will need to determine how open they can be with employees and recognize that they have little control over what is communicated via social networks anyway. In the old days, an employee would never consider entering the executive suite to talk with the CEO; now employees send CEOs Facebook (FB) messages and respond to their Tweets.

Social networks can also help in the employee-recognition department. At Sonicbids, a Boston-based company with 40 full-time employees and six managers that connects bands to music promoters, consumer brands and fans, CEO Panos Panay has turned every employee into a "brand ambassador. Whether we're looking to get the word about a band playing in town, promote a job opening, or looking to survey music lovers, we leverage this extended network," he says. The idea is that giving employees a more public role will offer additional chances to receive credit for their work.

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Every employee can play a critical role in boosting business via their social network, Panay says. "We're all the eyes, ears and mouthpieces for the company, and we have conversations about what we're seeing, hearing and talking about to better inform our business."

When Aramark, a private $13 billion food services company, was developing a social media strategy, it preferred not to rush in and launch it too quickly, explains Danna Vetter, its vice president for consumer strategies. "We took a step back, created an infrastructure, enabling employees to learn how to leverage social media," she said. The company has 225,000 employees, many of whom work at universities or company cafeterias and are extremely dispersed. Social media training for managers started in January 2012, and community managers, which could be chefs or cashiers, will be named to represent the company. Besides the most popular sites, Aramark is testing Yammer (In June, Microsoft (MSFT) announced it would acquire the company.), which creates private rooms for employees to communicate.

Going forward, more executives will need to adapt their management style to accommodate social as the C-suite controls their company's brand even less than they did before, Libert says. Employees -- and customers -- determine a brand's reputation online just as much as the top brass. No longer does the manager wield all the power.

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