Social Media: Friend or Foe?

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn….all social medial sites that have become billion dollar industries over the last few years with users ranging in age from 8 to 80. Twitter users alone post 500 million tweets per day, while Facebook has over 1 billion users.  Nearly three-quarters of online adults have profiles on social media sites. Many of these are working adults who not only use social media for personal communication, but for work-related activities as well. Based on this fact alone, one would think that all employers have very solid policies regarding social media and its use in the workplace. The reality is that many do not.

Employers use these sites as broad marketing tools for their organizations as they assist companies 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 uses. Social media use allows a company to distribute real-time information about the organization and quickly dispel any negative rumors. Social media is one of the greatest marketing tools of today. However, employers also need to realize the negative impact that social media 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 leverage social media, but protect themselves at the same time?

In developing a social media policy, employers should establish guidelines. These guidelines should be specific to the types of devices used as company device use may require different restrictions than personal and mobile devices. In creating the policy outline, consider this – should you permit the work time use of social media at all, and if so, will it be limited in time or to certain websites? If prohibited, how will you monitor the prohibition? Should employees have to notify the company when using social media sites for business use and how does one define “business use?” How will this policy intersect with harassment/discrimination, bullying, and technology policies? Do employees understand that even when using social media, they should know and follow company guidelines and 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 themselves and not the company? Will you require that employees use a disclaimer stating, “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? Do employees have the right to privacy in what they post on social media while at work? Will you require them not to reference clients, partners or suppliers without approval?

Developing a social media policy can be a very daunting task for any employer as with any other policy. Companies should consult with counsel when creating a social media policy to ensure that it does not run afoul of controlling laws, including the National Labor Relations Act. However, guidelines around social media will help employees understand how their employers expect them to use social media appropriately within their respective environments.

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