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Workplace Policies on Social Media

Social Media, Policies and the Workplace.

social mediaIt’s a simple fact of life that the vast majority of the employees in any business are also going to be users of various social media sites. As an owner or manager of a small business designing a correct set of policies for social media use is vital, not just for avoiding potential legal issues, but also for avoiding negative publicity and ensuring workplace productivity. This article will give you an overview of some of the risks, and approaches your company can take to mitigate them through intelligent policies, however it is not a comprehensive list and should not be taken as legal advice.

The first and most dangerous set of risks to the company are security risks. From an IT security point of view, every method of communicating with an employee directly is an avenue for compromising your network, and a potential means for sensitive data to leak out. In the worst case scenario this can result in your companies entire email system or knowledge base being made public, with catastrophic consequences. The second set of risks are legal, a careless statement by an employee from a work computer can create liability for libel, or under data protection laws if that employee has disclosed sensitive information. A company can also find itself at risk under copyright law, if an employee downloads a pirated piece of software, or shares music or video files. The third set of risks are public relations. Aside from the dangers of an employee complaining about the company they work for, there have been several cases where individuals complaining about a companies policies or actions on social media sites have been attacked by company employees, often resulting in negative national, or even international press coverage. One ill-judged post from an employee can blow up years of public relations work. The final risk is productivity, you’re paying employees to do a job, and unless they’re your social media manager, that job probably does not involve 2 hours a day of posting to Facebook. While productivity losses are unlikely to produce the same sort of crisis as the other 3 risks, a slack and unproductive atmosphere in a business can quickly become toxic for everyone involved.

As a result, many companies simply ban individuals from using social media sites during work hours, and install filtering software or editing firewall settings to block employees from using social media. While simple, this approach has its own drawbacks. First, this will create resentment, particularly amongst skilled employees who are used to independence of action, and capable of finding work elsewhere. Many managers will assume that if an employee is on Facebook or Twitter, they must be wasting hours of company time, however, it’s worth remembering that many people communicate with friends and family through short messages social media sites. A blanket ban is like banning people from making personal calls while on lunch or on break, it’s bound to create negativity amongst the workforce, and it gives the impression that management are either clueless or punitive. While it’s unlikely an employee will quit just because they can’t update their Facebook page, it could be the difference between an employee accepting an offer from another company and turning it down.

A better policy is a combination of monitoring and education. Speak to your IT department about monitoring employee Internet usage. Make sure your employees are aware that you’re going to be monitoring their Internet usage, and make sure they are educated about the need to maintain security, confidentiality and the correct public image while communicating on line. Set acceptable use guidelines covering both the time alloted to social media sites and in terms of content. As an example an employee should not be spending more time on line than they have for their breaks, nor should they be making any statements that harm the company’s interests. Make sure your employees are aware of the consequences for exposing the company to legal liability or compromising network security, and public image. Have a lawyer review your proposed policies to make sure they do not run afoul of any laws protecting certain sorts of employee communication. In particular many jurisdictions have labor laws protecting employees discussing their wages and terms of employment and whistleblower laws protecting employees who disclose criminal activity. Finally, make sure these policies are correctly and evenly enforced. While you will not completely mitigate the risks, you will have gone a long way to protecting yourself against the dangers posed by social media, while not denying yourself or your employees the opportunities for enhancing their jobs and furthering the interests of the company that social media provides.

Social Media is not the only workplace concern. “Telecommuting: Keeping Your Offsite Employees on Task”

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