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    Companies need guidelines for effective employee use of social media

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver August 24 - 30, 2010  issue #1087

    High Tech Office column

    Over half a billion of us – including me and probably you – have Facebook accounts.

    There are over 100 million of us on Twitter and countless others using Linkedin and other social networking sites. Not surprisingly, what we do in those virtual places has implications for our employers whether we visit the sites at work or at home.
    How our time on Facebook (et al) affects our employer, however, is more complex than it might seem, as is the way our employer needs to respond.

    For example, going on Facebook during work time – an obvious no-no, right? TCS Forensics’ computer forensics and data security consultant Ryan Mattinson notes that a management gut reaction to social media, perhaps as a result of “shoulder surfing” during a quick walkabout, may be to simply decide to ban access to these sites at work.

    Mattinson suggests this is the wrong approach. It’s bad for morale, hard to enforce and ignores the legitimate uses of these sites on the job. He points out groups of employees who might need access to social media from work:

    •IT staff might find social networks a valuable way to receive expert advice from their peers;

    •marketers may want to monitor your company’s viral campaign (or the competition’s); and

    •HR might be using them to check up on potential hires.

    But monitoring potential and current employees raises issues. Most of us understand that our employer might monitor what we do using a company-provided computer on the company network during company time. Your company may also feel it needs to know what you’re posting even if it’s been done using your own computer and on your own time.

    Companies feel that it’s their business what you say about your job, the company, your boss, your colleagues and even the competition online regardless of where you were when you posted the comment.

    If, however, companies are going to get involved in this sort of monitoring, clear policies and employee awareness and consent are needed. And this is where many companies fall down.

    Last fall, Manpower, a U.S.-based company specializing in providing office temps to the marketplace, polled 34,000 employers in 35 countries about attitudes toward social media in the workplace.

    Nearly 60% of the employers surveyed thought that social networks could be used to provide benefits to their organizations, including building their brands, fostering collaboration and communication, and recruiting and assessing new employees.
    However, three-quarters of the employers surveyed (71% of the North American employers) had no formal policies covering employee use of social networking sites.

    Employers who did have them felt that the policies helped prevent productivity loss by limiting non-business-related time spent at these sites.

    Other benefits of formal policies noted by employers included protecting their organizations’ reputations, helping with recruitment and protecting proprietary information.

    Mattinson points organizations to, which asks a quick 12 questions and then churns out a boilerplate social media acceptable use policy. However, he urges companies to go beyond that – take time, look at the policies in use by other companies ( offers 148 real-life examples) and, most of all, think about the unique needs and culture of each organization.

    Sharlyn Lauby of Internal Talent Management suggests that while social networks seem new, “social media or new media is really media. Many organizations ... already have a policy in place for working with media. Social media is merely an extension of what you already have in place.”

    She hopes that organizations can build on what they’re already doing to develop and communicate guidelines, train staff to use these networks to benefit their organizations and build an environment to use social media positively within the organization.Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. Follow azisman on Twitter to receive regular notifications of these columns.  E-mail Alan
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