Last term in my social media class, we were asked to write blog posts about an issue that interested us. I was assigned to post a blog entry during the unit on social media policies, and I researched the problems and benefits surrounding social media use by company employees. Because their work is such a large part of their everyday lives, many employees share information about their jobs or employers over social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook or their personal blogs. Due to the nature of the Internet, this information can be widely viewed.
It is true that social media use by employees can represent a potential threat if they expose company secrets or sensitive information, but I believe there can also be benefits of this social media use. These threats or opportunities will vary depending on the company, so it is important that each company or organization take the time to evaluate their employee social media use and make a set of social media guidelines for their workers. Below is the post I wrote for class, which was originally posted on the class blog.
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Let’s consider a situation where a company bans its employees from expressing opinions or sharing information online about their work. This could be a decision based on sensitive information, as previously seen in the U.S. Marine Corps, or simply due to concerns about employees posting unflattering or critical statements online.
It is true that a single tweet, blog post or status update about the employer or brand could potentially derail the goodwill the public feels toward an organization, but is it necessary to ban workers from talking about their organization?
I would argue that, in many situations, a worker participating in an online conversation about their employer would be an opportunity for the brand to grow and become more influential in an online setting.
Everyone has an equal chance to be influential in social media. This means an average employee, when interacting with peers online, could be seen as a trusted brand ambassador. This could be a great benefit, because it gives the public many more chances to interact with the company and gain information.
In fact, the “average” workers in the company may be even more influential than a CEO or communications director, because they are normal people and their opinions may be more trusted by the public.
However, it also means that more people are sharing their opinions, which are not always complimentary.
This is when the company needs to make a decision about its employees’ social media use and company-wide policies regarding that use. The following steps provide a general guide for the decision-making process and implementation of a social media policy:
1. Determine whether it is necessary to limit employee use of social media to talk about the organization. Is the industry sensitive in terms of privacy? Does employee freedom outweigh privacy concerns? Would it be beneficial to have employees interacting with potential customers in an online setting?
2. Make a set of guidelines regarding employee social media use. These should involve ethical considerations such as transparency, authenticity of information and honesty of opinion.
3. Ensure that employees know the rules. An excellent example of this step is the Victoria, Australia Department of Justice social media policy video. Check it out here!
4. Have a strategy in place to handle a difficult situation, in case a disgruntled employee defies the rules.
With the increased prevalence of social media, it is almost inevitable that organizations will have to deal with employees posting work-related information online. Where is the line between freedom and security? Is social media use by employees a threat or an opportunity? What do you think about these issues?