From Twitter and Facebook to YouTube and the blogosphere, social media dramatically increase employers’ exposure to potentially costly and protracted risks including lawsuits, regulatory fines, security breaches, mismanaged business records, and productivity drains among others.
Anyone with a computer and Web access can establish a Twitter presence or Facebook page and start sharing negative, critical, defamatory, or otherwise harmful comments about your organization’s people and products, financials and future—in minutes.
Anyone with a Smartphone equipped with a camera or video recorder can capture and upload embarrassing or otherwise damaging photos and videos of executives and employees, facilities and secrets—in a snap.
Should dissatisfied workers or angry ex-employees post confidential company information or disclose trade secrets on social media sites, the devastating results can range from negative publicity and public scrutiny to regulatory investigations and declining stock valuations.
Just like e-mail, blogs, and other electronic business communication tools, social media can create business records. If employees use the company system to post comments on Facebook or upload videos to YouTube, that content may be subpoenaed, must be produced, and could be used as evidence in lawsuits or regulatory audits.
Best Practice: Establish Social Media Policy to Combat Potentially Costly Risks
Best practices call for the establishment and enforcement of social media policies. Even if your organization doesn’t currently operate a business blog, or have a corporate presence on Twitter, you cannot afford to ignore emerging technology. Fail to provide the hot, must-have technology tools of the day, and your employees (particularly younger employees whose lives revolve around Tweeting, texting, and networking) will bring them in through the back door.
Through the strategic implementation of a comprehensive social media management program that combines written rules with employee education, supported by policy-based monitoring and blocking technology, you can minimize risks while maximizing compliance.
The State of Social Media Policies
According to the 2009 Electronic Business Communication Policies & Procedures Survey from American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute, employers increasingly are using policy to help control social media risks.
- Policy governing exposure of company secrets, financial data, rumors, gossip on business-related or personal social media sites: 61%
- Policy governing viewing, downloading, uploading videos to video sharing sites during working hours: 54%
- Policy governing use of personal social media during working hours: 46%
- Policy governing use of words, photos, signage, uniforms, logos, or any other means to identify yourself as a company employee on personal social media sites: 43%
- Policy governing discussions about the company on business-related networking sites: 41%
- Policy governing discussions about the company on personal social networking sites: 40%
- Policy governing uploading of business-related photos or videos to personal social media sites: 40%
- Policy governing use of business-related networking sites during working hours: 32%
Best Practice Guidelines: Creating an Effective Social Media Policy
- Combine written policy with employee training, monitoring technology, and URL blocks to help manage use, content, and risks.
- Establish rules to limit or ban social media use during working hours.
- Notify employees that they must comply with all of the company’s employment policies when using social media.
- Stress that compliance with social media policy is mandatory at all times—during business hours and on employees’ own time.
- Outlaw pseudonyms and anonymous postings.
- Prohibit employees from mentioning the organization or identifying themselves as employees via text, photos, art, logos, uniforms, letterhead, products, trademarks, or any other content.
- Prohibit employees from attacking, defaming, harassing, discriminating against, menacing, threatening, or otherwise exhibiting inappropriate or offensive behavior, attitudes, opinion, or commentary toward or about coworkers, supervisors, executives, customers, vendors, shareholders, the media, other third parties.
- Prohibit employees from disclosing confidential, sensitive, proprietary, top secret, or private information about the company, employees, executives, customers, partners, suppliers, other third parties.
- Prohibit the use of company-provided or personal cell phone cameras or video recorders to take, transmit, download, or upload photos or videos of coworkers, executives, customers, suppliers, and any other third-party without first securing the written permission of the subject and management.
- Prohibit employees from disclosing financial information about the company without permission.
- Insist on adherence to content and language guidelines.
- Prohibit the posting of copyright-protected material without the express written permission of the copyright owner.
- Notify employees that violation of the social media policy (or any other employment policy) will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
- Require employees to sign and date a copy of the policy, acknowledging that they have read it, understand it, and agree to comply with it.
- Support social media policy with URL blocking technology that prohibits access to off-limits sites.
- Monitor internal and external social media sites, video-sharing sites, and blogs to see what is being written about the company, and how employees are spending their time.
A noted expert on e-mail and social media policy, compliance, and communications, Nancy Flynn is founder and executive director of The ePolicy Institute. The ePolicy Institute helps employers limit risks, including litigation, through effective policy, training, and technology. The author of 10 books including The e-Policy Handbook 2nd Edition, Blog Rules, E-Mail Rules, and Instant Messaging Rules. Nancy Flynn is an international speaker and seminar leader who also serves as an expert witness in Internet-related litigation. The ePolicy Institute conducts a widely reported annual survey of electronic polices and procedures in conjunction with American Management Association. A popular media source, Nancy Flynn has been interviewed by Fortune, Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, Readers’ Digest, USA Today, NPR, “CBS Early Show,” CNBC, and CNN among others.