Nowadays, it is almost impossible to prevent employees from using social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest – while at work. Some businesses are fine with that, even encouraging employees to promote the company and its products or services on social media. At the same time, however, they don’t want productivity to slip, or to have workers portray the company negatively on popular social media channels.
[ Related: A day in the life of a social CIO ]
So what steps can organizations realistically take to limit or control social media use while at work, without seeming like Big Brother or forbidding its use? Following are five expert tips, along with a sidebar on the legal ramifications of using social media for work or at the office.
1. Involve all departments. “Social media is not just the responsibility of the social media or marketing department,” says Mirna Bard, founder, Digital Marketer’s ToolBox. “To craft an effective policy, involve human resources, legal and compliance, as well as the public relations and marketing departments. This will lessen risks and make sure the social media policy is customized to the company” and is in compliance with company and legal requirements.
2. Use a filter. “Installing a DNS-based Web filter is critical for filtering out unwanted social media sites [and] also protecting the employees’ computers from malicious infections,” says Nick Espinosa, CIO, BSSi2, which provides IT support and consulting services. “A Web filter will block sites or ads that may be harmful to the computer and also allows for restrictions regarding where users can go. Everyone has a different opinion of what they call ‘social media,’ and there is a difference between checking Facebook and checking your Ashley Madison account at work,” he says. “Understand the distinctions and filter accordingly.”
3. Set aside times each day for social media use. “If an employee wants to use social media at work they’re going to find a way,” says Espinosa. “If they can’t use the network, then they will use their cell phone. The best policy a company can put into place is to not restrict access to social media but to restrict time. Create a policy that limits social media use to certain times during the day – lunch, for example – or give the user a finite amount of time throughout the day to check and be active with social media,” he suggests. “This not only satisfies their need but also gives the company excellent usage metrics.”
4. Have a written social media policy. “Include social media guidelines in your organization’s employee handbook,” advises Lisa Brown Morton, president and CEO of Nonprofit HR. “This will keep employees in the know about what they can and cannot do on social media.”
Similarly, “provide them with language on how to talk about your organization [on social media sites]. Social media is an excellent platform for recruiting, building credibility and sharing your hard work,” she points out. “Let your employees talk [on social media sites] in a way that benefits and promotes your organization.”
“The best social media policies are direct and specific, and communicate clearly to employees what they should and shouldn't do,” says Jenn Deering Davis, cofounder and editor in chief, Union Metrics, a provider of social media analytics and answers. “Make sure your guidelines are both easy to understand and to follow.”
5. Don't be draconian. “Social media is a big part of many people's lives, and they want to use it at and for work,” says Deering Davis. “So make room for social media in your organization, and find ways to let it work for you. Instead of discouraging social media use,” or banning it outright, “encourage responsible, appropriate use.”
The legal side of using social media at and for work
Josh Druckerman, an associate attorney at White Harris, a management-side employment law firm, discusses some of the legal issues surrounding the use of social media at work or by employees.
The company owns its social media accounts, not the employees. “If your company makes use of social media for promotion, such as through a company Twitter account, blog, LinkedIn or Facebook page, your policy should make it very clear that the company owns all [of its] social media accounts, as well as all of the associated followers, ‘likes,’ ‘friends’ or other online connections associated with those accounts.
“Your company should also require that all passwords, access codes and administrator credentials for company social media pages be provided to, stored by and made accessible to the company at all times, and that the company must be kept apprised of any changes to passwords, administrators or unauthorized accesses.”
Employees have the right to communicate with other employees, and talk about the company, on social media. “The National Labor Relations Board has been mounting a crusade against employer social media policies that ‘chill’ employee speech regarding terms and conditions of employment. As a result, employers should make sure their social media policies do not prohibit employees from discussing their benefits, wages, pay practices or working conditions with other employees.
“For example, policies that ban posting negative information about the company and policies preventing employees from ‘friending’ each other on Facebook have been struck down by the NLRB for violating employee rights to organize under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.”
Employees must disclose when they are posting on behalf of the company. “Employees who post about, promote or review their company's products or services are required by FTC regulations to include a disclaimer that states that they are an employee of the company. Similarly, if a company hires or compensates spokespersons to promote the company on social media, compensates a blogger for a review or engages an endorser to tweet about an offering, those marketing statements must include a disclaimer that the individual is affiliated with the company.”