Small Business Employers Lag Behind In Setting Policies for Social Media


Despite the dramatic increase in the use of social networking websites, a study done by the Wall Street Journal indicates that only 25% of employees said their employer had a policy regarding social media networking. An August 2009 study done by one industry found that 50% of employers reported not having a policy for employees’ online activity outside of work and only 10% reported having a policy specifically addressing these types of social media sites.

What are the types of policies an employer could implement?

  • No policy – 74% of employers do not have a policy according to the Wall Street Journal
  • Absolute Ban at work with restrictions away from work
  • Absolute Ban at work but silent on the use of social networking away from work
  • Allowed at work with guidelines
  • Encouraged at work with guidelines

Employers must weigh the risks of inappropriate online activity against the potential harm to employee relations if the company’s efforts go too far and are perceived as excessively intruding into employee’s private life outside of work. To manage the risk of employee use of social media, employers should develop a specific policy governing usage of social networking sites and train employees on the policy an appropriate use of the sites.

If you limit use of the network to business purposes only, remind employees of the policy and that the company reserves the right to monitor use of electronic resources without notice to the employees and employees have no reasonable expectations to privacy in the use of the company’s electronic resources such as a Facebook business page.

Some policies to consider:

Require that all information posted or published by an employee comply with existing policies governing the use of confidential or proprietary information. This includes your anti-harassment policy, your confidentiality policy, any policy you have applies to their social networking activity. Make sure they understand they cannot reference customer information with their express permission. Also, an employee needs to understand that logos and trademarks cannot be used on their personal website.

Require employees have disclaimers clearly stating that views expressed by the employee belong to the author and do not represent the company.

Remind employees that their activities online reflect the company and its service to customers and the community.

Remind employees to be respectful of customers, co-workers and the company at all times.

In addition to these policies, you will want to educate your employees.

Employers should train employees on the company’s expectations regarding use of internet-based social media and educate employees on appropriate vs inappropriate use of social media sites. Never assume that the employee will know the difference. Employees that understand the personal and professional risks of inappropriate activity will be much more likely to self-regulate their online behavior.

Routinely monitor your employees’ online presence. Websites, such as Google, allow companies to set up alerts that will send an email when the search terms are identified if the alert appears in any online content. This will help you the employer to monitor employee activity.

Monitoring online content allows companies to take positive steps to address negative content or comments and provides an opportunity to respond with positive content. Employers will also want to comment on employees postings and show their appreciation or provide follow-up communication.

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