The 2 Sides to Your Company’s Social Networking Policy

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October 4, 2011 – Now we’re getting to the point where you really need to be on your toes: governing your employees’ use of their personal social networking accounts.

There are 2 main issues to consider when drafting up a plan for regulating non-work related use of social networking sites by your employees:

  • 1. You should address when it is appropriate to use social networking sites during working hours or on a company computer.
  • 2. You should also address what is and isn’t appropriate to discuss on their personal profiles without violating labor laws.

The following questions may help you determine your company’s exact rules for when and where employees can engage in social networking: 

  • When would using social networking sites decrease productivity?
  • When would accessing social networking sites be appropriate?
  • When would the use of social networking sites create a hazard?

You want to make sure that if an employee is checking their Facebook newsfeed that it’s being done during an appropriate time, such as during their lunch break. Some companies are lax about time restrictions, and have a general “as long as we’re not busy, have at it” policy, while others restrict personal contact time to appropriate break periods.

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Social networking during working hours can present two types of hazards: 1) electronic; and 2) physical. There have been many cases of malicious software or viruses infecting computers through social networking links. Also, an employee who is distracted by checking their Facebook on their smartphone could be causing physical hazards by neglecting to monitor their surroundings.

The next part of your company’s social networking policy should focus on what your employees are saying on their personal profiles. As the employer, it’s easy to get yourself into legal hot water here, so it’s best to draft this part of your policy with the help of an employment attorney.

Some states have strict laws about whether or not an employer can read their employees’ personal social networking profiles. There is a belief that anything made public is intended for general reading, and therefore, if an employee’s Facebook profile is not secured, it is fair game. However, this may not be true in all cases, and you should definitely consult with an attorney before making any employment decisions due to a conflict of information shared on a personal profile.

One thing you definitely should make clear in your company’s social networking policy is thatdisclosing some forms of information might be strictly prohibited such as: 

  • trade secrets;
  • proprietary information;
  • financial information; and
  • client identity.

In most cases, when an employee signs their employment contract, you will have a non-disclosure statement already worked in. Even so, there’s no reason you shouldn’t reinforce it here, as it may not always be apparent that a tweet about the new product your company is working on may be violating disclosure agreements.

In the end, your company’s social networking policy should be mindful of these important issues: 

  • When is it appropriate to use social media at work?
  • What is appropriate to discuss work-related activity/issues on a personal social media profile?
  • How can employers monitor employee personal social media use?

For a great example of a generic social networking policy, check out the Texas Workforce Commission‘s template. Entrepreneur also features a great article on the consequences of not having a well-structured social networking policy.

And that’s the end of our informative series on social networking in the workplace! We’ll return tomorrow with the fun stuff – making social media marketing work for YOUR business!