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Social Media at Work: What’s Your Company’s Policy?

A few weeks ago we posted about the importance of a having a company e-mail policy. E-mail has been around for quite awhile now, so hopefully companies have been moving more and more toward including email communication in their workplace policies. But, what about Facebook at work, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, wikis, etc? How are you handling your employees’ behavior in the world of social media?

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The rise of social media has been incredibly fast. Its implications for business grow every day, and as with most things that become “overnight sensations” in technology, there aren’t many guidelines on how to deal with social media at work. Yet, we’re all becoming more and more aware of the pitfalls and risks associated with social media as it develops and expands as a business tool, not just a personal tool.

Business vs. Personal at Work

Sites like Facebook and Twitter are blurring the lines every day between what is personal and what is business, which can have serious consequences if misused. On the other hand, social media tools are also becoming highly successful vehicles for companies to be closer to their customers and to disperse information quickly and efficiently to a target audience.

Here a few reasons to incorporate social media into your organization’s library of policies:

1) Reputation: Branding, word-of-mouth and impression management can make or break a company. The last thing a business needs is for inappropriate use of social media by employees to make its way in to the news. Just as you would hopefully encourage your employees to be appropriate, honest and careful about how they represent the company in person, the same rules should be followed in social media. There isn’t really much difference.

2) Privacy and confidentiality: While lawyers may love the new business generated for them to protect and defend things like a company’s intellectual property rights and trademarks, it can be a real nightmare for a business. It is critical that your employees understand that anything they post online is subject to all of the other policies within the organization such as confidentiality agreements, competitive intelligence policies, IT policies, etc.

3) Productivity: Even those employees who are not in any way using your company’s name in their social media interactions may get caught up in the volume of information that is at their fingertips. Just when you think you’ve caught up on reading everything of interest to you, there is suddenly more. Productivity can certainly suffer the consequences of these communication mediums and it’s important for a company to have guidelines around this behavior and how any subsequent problems will be handled.

So what should we allow our employees to do and not do? It’s a tough question. This is still relatively new territory for us in HR, so there are no clear rules yet on how best to address this issue. The biggest question seems to be how specific (and long) the policy should it be, or should if it should be more general and brief? Again, no best practices have risen to the top yet as companies are still figuring out organically what will work best for them.

Intel ‘s “Social Media Guidelines” is about two pages at most. Microsoft has a nine-page policy just for tweeting and blogging. Many companies have nothing. Luckily, more and more companies are sharing their policies on-line, which can be a helpful place to start. One good resource is Social Media Governance, which maintains a database of actual social media policies by industry.

I have found that the policies that are less about restrictions, and more about what employees can and should do, have been the most successful. Belief in and support of Freedom of Speech can be strong, and employees seem to be more open to being told what is allowed and how best to conduct themselves versus being told what they are not allowed to do.

Also, people tend to react better when they are trusted to behave like professional grown-ups instead of being given a long laundry list of no-no’s. That said, each company must determine the tone, breadth and depth of the policy to fit with their corporate culture. But no matter what, the expectations and the consequences must be clearly laid out.

Regards,

Eliza Polly
PayScale.com

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