need guidelines for effective employee use of social media
Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business
in Vancouver August 24 - 30, 2010
High Tech Office column
Over half a billion of us – including me and probably you – have
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
•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
Other benefits of formal policies noted by employers included
protecting their organizations’ reputations, helping with recruitment
and protecting proprietary information.
Mattinson points organizations to www.socialmedia.policytool.net, 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
(www.socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php offers 148 real-life
examples) and, most of all, think about the unique needs and culture of
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
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.