Social media is not going away any time soon, and now it is becoming more and more integrated at the workplace. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Myspace are used by millions of people around the world in both their personal and professional lives. People use social media on a daily basis to discuss the positive and negative experiences in their lives, and now it includes their views on their employer, co-workers or even clients.
Businesses are also discovering the benefits of developing a social media presence to help promote their brand, reach out to more clients and have a greater connection with the outside world. It offers new opportunities for organisations to network, attract clients, recruit, promote their brand and market their services, all with minimal financial expense. Many organisations now actively encourage their employees, particularly those involved in sales or marketing, to join business social networking sites such as LinkedIn to promote their company and generate new business.
Naturally, along with the benefits of social media come a number of risks. Companies have very limited control over what is said about them on the Internet, beyond the scope of their own corporate websites – and the potential audience for any negative comments is huge. Organisations also face risk from inside their company with employees using social media at work and even spending company time to negatively publicise the company on social media platforms.
This is where having a social media policy comes in hand, but what exactly does a social media policy cover? A social media policy should set out the standards that an organisation expects from its employees when they are using online social media. It normally gives guidelines of acceptable behaviour and explains what employees should and should not do when using these sites in the course of their employment.
Two key items to remember to include in the policy are:
- Employers must be upfront so employees understand they have no right to privacy with respect to social networking, and that employers reserve the right to monitor employee use of social media regardless of location.
- Employees should be made aware that company policies on anti-harassment, ethics and company loyalty extend to all forms of communication both inside and outside the workplace.
A social media policy should cover all employees just like all other policies the organisation has. It should be made clear to employees that consequences will occur if the policy is broken by employees, and the types of possible consequences should be spelt out in the policy.
The benefits social networking sites bring to business can be substantial and tends to generally outweigh the possible risks, and an organisation should recognise that it is impractical to ban their use in the work environment. Employees have changed with the increase in technology available; it is unrealistic to think employees will not spend 10 or 20 minutes each day logging on.
Responsible organisations will recognise that risks do exist with social media tools, and take steps to manage them. One of those steps is the introduction of a social media policy, which will control how social media sites are used at work, explain to employees what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and give companies a level of protection in the event that such use is abused.