Social media policy essentials

Employees need to be just as clued up about the appropriate use of social media as their employers and that's where a viable social media policy comes in handy.

It’s been an interesting year for business and social media, especially when it comes to its use in today’s workplace. What was seen by many organisations last year as a faddish trend not worthy of closer inspection is now well and truly mainstream and posing a few headaches for management.  

What is clear is that the rising prominence of social media channels as an effective communications tool has caught many organisations flat-footed. The combination of rapidly evolving technology, a mobile workforce, and employees’ predilection for bringing personal smart devices to work have accelerated the need for organisations to find effective ways to better harness the social media phenomenon and create viable risk management policies.

As Leon Gettler recently pointed out an effective social media policy is still not a priority for a number of businesses. It’s a dangerous strategy because social media is a double-edged sword and the value that it brings can be quickly undone by a single mistake, as evidenced by the recent embarrassment suffered by Qantas.

However, it’s not just employers who need to keep a close eye on things; the blurring of the boundaries between work and home means that employees need to be on their toes as well. 

Apart from the obvious security and confidentiality considerations, one issue that often slips through the cracks is that social media makes people highly identifiable in terms of talking about work.

According to Vivienne Storey, general manager of BlandsLaw, employees need to be mindful when using social media channels to discuss work, because their comments reflect on their workplace and it’s quite easy to put the two things together. 

“The onus is as much on the employees as much as the employer, because organisations and individuals need to manage their online reputations,” she says.

Not only is the information public it’s also permanent and that can have immense repercussions on an individual’s online reputation.

“The first thing an employer is going to do when looking at a potential employee is google their name, that has implications for the individual not just presently but also in the future.”

Managing your online reputation is going to become a major area of focus in 2012 and Storey thinks the current trend of putting everything online may not last as employees become more circumspect with what they choose to share.

“People treat Facebook as their interaction with their friends, but it is a public forum and it’s not the right place to talk about your workplace or your boss.” 

Now, I would like to think that most of us know better than using Facebook to whinge about our bosses, but Storey tells me that the number of employees failing to make the connection is staggering.

The way to tackle this problem is education, with employers and employees both working together. Organisations need to use social media as a tool and those using it will need to have training. This is where a social media policy comes in handy.  Effective policies need to be customised to meet the specific requirements of the organisation.

 “It doesn’t need to be a huge legal document, but needs to be clearly communicate about what employees can say, and who are the people designated to speak on behalf of the company. “

However, simply penning a document is not enough. What’s needed is to use the policy document as a template around which employers and employees can engage in an ongoing process of education.

Some organisations, such as Coca Cola, do this well, while others are slowly starting to get their act together. Unfortunately, around 40 per cent of local organisations still ban the use of social media at the work and these draconian policies are not only ineffective in stopping employees from using the medium but also remove the critical element of engagement that is necessary to make social media work for a company.


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