Thursday, June 30, 2011

Corporate Policies Regarding Employees’ Social Media Activities

All companies need to have employee handbooks containing corporate policies, such as anti-discrimination policy, vacation/sick leave policy and others. Recently, employers started amending their employee handbooks to include a new policy: that governing the employees’ use of the Internet during work.

Concerns that gave rise to such policies include:

- Can employees spend time on the Internet during business hours?
- Can the company regulate what employees say about it online?
- Is there a danger that employees’ postings/blogs will be attributed to the company?
- Is there a risk that the employees disclose company confidential information through the social media?

In my opinion (and feel free to disagree) is that every company needs to set clear boundaries regarding its employees’ use of the Internet for personal purposes during business hours. However, this policy should not be too restrictive. Much of marketing is done nowadays online, through Facebook, twitter, and other social media sites. Preventing employees from going on these sites during work can take away a great marketing tool, if such (satisfied) employees have positive things to say about their employers and the products/services they offer. What a better marketing tool than let the employees “spread the word” through their informal social networks!

So, regulation rather than restriction, seems to be what is needed. For example, the social media policy can include these guidelines:

- Start with the warning that any violation of these rules can result in termination of employment;
- Say that employees may not post knowingly false information about the company, its employees and customers;
- Ask employees to limit use of the Internet during business hours to essentially business purposes (but employers need to understand that even blocked sites can be accessed by employees during business hours through their personal smart phones);
- Ask employees to put disclaimers on their personal blogs that views they express there are their own;
- Prohibit (here I use the strong word) any disclosure of proprietary confidential information of the employer;
- Say that employees cannot put anything on the Internet that would disparage, embarrass, insult, harass any of the other employees or damage the reputation of the company, its products or its customers.
- On the other hand, encourage employees to write about the company in the social media in a way that would benefit the company. This is a great way to fortify your brand and increase your company’s visibility.

Please keep in mind that views expressed here are my own personal views and do not constitute legal or any other advice. Each company is different, and should follow its own view on how its employees can/should use the Internet during business hours.

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