Social media is no longer a place to tend an imaginary farm or to hang on every 140 character phrase of a favorite celebrity. Businesses are recognizing that social media is a powerful marketing tool for their product or service. In fact, it’s become unusual for a business or an organization to not have a Facebook page, Twitter feed or Google+ profile. Some employees utilize LinkedIn to organize and keep in touch with other business contacts. However, social media may present a different set of issues that businesses must grapple with.
Any business has the right to block access to a site or to monitor their employee’s internet and email usage during company time and on company equipment and through the company’s network. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) grants employers three exceptions to the law. Some employers are finding that restricting access to social media during work hours is often a battle they cannot win. New social networking sites pop up every day. Computer savvy employees will find a way around the blocks put into place by the IT department. Employers find themselves trying to maintain a balance between good morale by allowing some social media use by employees, utilizing social media for business purposes, and protecting their business and their business’s reputation.
Unrestricted use of social media on company equipment, company time and over company networks presents its own set of problems. The first of these problems is the loss of productivity as a result of employees spending work time on social media sites. A loss in productivity will translate into missed deadlines and lost sales.
IT issues also arise as a result of allowing social media use during the workday. Uploading files, downloading files and streaming videos places a strain on bandwidth usage and slows down networks. There is also the danger of viruses, worms, trojans or other malicious threats entering the company’s computer network. This, in turn, can lead to the compromise of important and confidential data.
A third issue is the liability as a result of employees’ inappropriate online behavior. If an employee is engaged in inappropriate online behavior on company time and/or using company equipment, it opens up the business to liability. Inappropriate behavior can range from harassing other people or acting in a manner that reflects poorly on the company.
One solution to this issue is for a business to craft a specific policy governing social media usage during company time and on company equipment. This policy should be clear and made widely available to all employees. It should be posted in a prominent place such as the same area where the state labor posters
This policy should clearly define what is considered “official” and “unofficial” social media usage. It should also define what is considered “authorized communications”, appropriate subject matter, who, if any, are considered authorized users of social media, and specify the difference between an “official” account and an “unofficial” account.
A social media policy should also contain a legal disclaimer that protects the company against liability. It should also define any time and subject matter restrictions regarding social media content. It should also inform employees of their legal rights.
A clearly defined policy posted in a prominent place, such as near the state labor law posters, is the best way to ensure that social media usage benefits both the business and the employees.