Social Media; Friend or Foe?

Posted on April 19, 2012 by Tracy Cheek in Best Practices, Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Linked in….all social medial sites that have become billion dollar industries over the last few years with members ranging in age from 12 – 50+ years.  75% of on-line adults have multiple profiles on social networking (SN) sites.  Many of these are working adults who not only use SN for personal communication, but for work related activities as well.  Based on this fact alone, one would think that employers have very solid policies regarding social media and how it is used in the workplace, but the reality is many do not.

Employers are using these sites as a broad marketing tool for their organizations as it assists them in connecting to the customer directly, replacing press releases with regular updates, monitoring the competition, improving internal communications, and monitoring employee behavior to name a few.  This tactic provides for a lot of real time information about the organization and can quickly dispel any negatives rumors that tend to surface.  It is one of the greatest and highly rated marketing tools of today.  However, employers also need to realize the negative impact that social networking sites can have on the workplace.  For example, an unhappy employee may post negative comments about the company or management.  The question then becomes, how can employers utilize SN, but protect themselves at the same time?

The first thing they must recognize are a few common statistics regarding the use of SN.  Twitter alone posts 90 million tweets per day, while Facebook has 845 million users and shares 1,000,000 links every 20 minutes.  Also, in 2011, the EEOC received over 99,000 new charges and recovered over $300 million in monetary relief.  Much of this is attributed to the onset of social networking sites.  Statistics show that 75% of lawsuits are employment related in which employers lose approximately 60% of these cases.  The average amount of attorney fees are $100,000, before settlement.  Settlements average around $500,000.  Only 22% of employers have policies regarding social media, while 79% have identified themselves as using SN for recruiting.  27% of employees say they do not consider any ethical consequences prior to posting information while 21% say they access their SN sites at work, and 58% of teenagers say they would consider the ability to text, tweet, and Facebook at work as criteria in weighing a job offer.  An employer’s ability to connect with potential customers is huge, but so is their risk exposure.  Therefore, developing solid policies around SN and how it is used is paramount to mitigating the risk of misuse.

In developing a SN policy, employers should define the technology to be used and any problems associated with using that technology, and establish risk tolerances.  In creating the policy outline, consider this – should you permit social networking at all and if so will it be limited?  If prohibited, how will you monitor it? Should employees have to identify with the company when working on-line and how do you define appropriate business behavior?  How will this policy intersect with harassment, technology, and confidentiality policies?  Do employees understand that even though using SN, they should know and follow company guidelines, understand that they are personally responsible for content posted?  Will you require them to identify themselves and their role within the company when discussing company matters, and make it clear that they are speaking for self and not the company?  Will you require that a disclaimer be used identifying “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the company’s positions, strategies or opinions” when discussing company related matters. How will disparaging remarks about the company or an employee be handled?  Do employees have the right to privacy?  Will you require them not to reference clients, partners or suppliers without approval?

Developing a SN policy can be a very daunting task for any employer as with any other policy. However, guidelines around social networking will help employees understand how they are expected to use SN appropriately within their prospective environments.  Companies should seek appropriate legal advice to better understand the legal implications.



**All statistic were presented to me at the SHRM Atlanta 2012 in March.