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How do I respond to employees’ social media activity?

How do I respond to employees’ social media activity?

Although social networking has become a firmly entrenched mainstream activity, plenty of companies still seem to ignore just how potentially damaging it could be for their business.

Therefore, to avoid falling foul of damaging social media activity you need to address the issue and then implement a policy against which to set disciplinary action.

You can't very well discipline someone for an unintentional, but damaging, remark if you have no rules in place.

Before you are able to act against any individual you have to have some guidelines in place – and ensure all employees are aware of just where the boundaries lie.

First up, you need to acknowledge that all social sites are likely to be used to talk about work, or your business. It's only naturally for people to talk about what they do and how they feel about it.

99% of your employees' social media activity is likely to be utterly harmless or irrelevant to your business. The problems occur if what they say somehow does reflect upon your business.

If someone boasts on line about how they continually get drunk at weekends this is not particularly pleasant – and may constitute a reason for not promoting someone. However, if someone states that they are continually drunk whilst servicing your customers or managing your client then this is a disciplinary matter which breaches your terms of employment as well as being unacceptable online.

In a sense your social media policy needs to be incorporated into the general terms of employment and behaviour your company expects from all employees.

Your social media policy therefore must address the actions and statements of your employees overall. Simply asking employees not to use certain sites is too specific and almost useless in practice.

If an employee makes a derogatory reference to your company or even reveals some of its intended policy to a friend, you have recourse to a set of disciplinary punishments, warning or even sacking in much the same way as for any other serious workplace offence.

Obviously, the most negative interpretation is when a disgruntled employee says something damaging about the organisation they work for – but this isn't the only potential danger. Damaging or not, anyone who simply lets slip something about the company they work for; its practices, its hopes or culture, is revealing some information none the less.

Someone who simply says to a friend not to apply for a job at your company because it isn't much fun may be an innocent remark, but that friend can pass it on, so it becomes permanent bad word of mouth. Whilst word of mouth is impossible to detect or stop, online messages and posts are kept and passed on.

Your policy needs to be far-sighted in its implications to at least cover the possibility of misuse, intentionally or otherwise.

Your policy guidelines need to take account of your employees referring to clients or perhaps making recommendations and giving appraisals on your company's suitability for possible employment opportunities. It should also protect confidential information and anything to do with your company's intellectual assets.

Many of these rules of confidentiality and disclosure are covered in your terms of employment and should naturally apply to your social media guidelines.

In such cases you have the right to consider serious disciplinary action if such disclosure goes through a social site.

Finally, there is also the issue of time wasting and your rules and policies can at least define what's acceptable during office hours. Of course, in any policy there must be clear consequences for not adhering to the rules.