Do your staff understand your social media policy?

Jane's Social Media discusses the modern technology minefield.

Did you know that on average, employees are interrupted once every 10.5 minutes by social media updates, and it takes, roughly, 23 minutes for them to focus back on their work? (Chatelaine.com May 2013)

ACAS found that some employers are having difficulty in setting standards of behaviour for the use of social networking sites.

Many employers think that a social media policy only applies to the use of social media for that business. Of course that is crucial with an estimated 90% of small businesses using social media now (www.manta.com/).

But for those that don’t allow access to social media sites at work there is the issue of use of personal mobile phones with people updating their Facebook and twitter status during work time.

However, the most common reason for dismissal over social media is in relation to personal use; when an employee expresses an opinion that may bring the organisation into disrepute, or posts photos of colleagues or clients without considering privacy issues.

We are aware of the big cases hit that hit the news, also nearly all of us all will have heard of someone being disciplined for things that they have said on their Facebook or twitter accounts.

The after work pub conversation, where we had a moan about our boss to let off steam, has now gone online. Time after time people believe they were just talking to their friends, because they do not understand the reach of these platforms.

Writing a status update is not far off a press release once your friends have liked it and shared it, it is out of your control.

Earlier this year it was estimated that in the UK there are approximately 30 million live Twitter accounts and 33 million Facebook accounts. That is a lot of people sharing their thoughts on social media!

FireMe! - a twitter app that tracks tweets that could get people sacked - sent out 4,304 warning tweets in a recent three week period. From that, 249 of these people deleted the tweets within two hours. They found that during one week in June over 22,000 tweets were posted that mentioned hating a job or the boss.

So, what can you do?

ACAS says that by having a written policy on 'the acceptable use of social networking' at work an organisation can:

  • help protect itself against liability for the actions of its workers.
  • give clear guidelines for employees on what they can and cannot say about the company.
  • help line managers to manage performance effectively.
  • help employees draw a line between their private and professional lives.
  • comply with the law on discrimination, data protection and protecting the health of employees.
  • set standards for good housekeeping - for example, for the use and storage of emails.
  • be clear about sensitive issues like monitoring and explain how disciplinary rules and sanctions will be applied.
The case law in this area contains many examples of employer's acting unfairly in dismissing an employee for a comment made online and tribunals do not come down favourably on the side of the employer when there isn’t a policy in place.

As well as rigorously following appropriate disciplinary procedures, the case law shows that dismissal must be a reasonable response in the circumstances of each case.

However going to tribunal is costly at an estimated £10,000 in costs, if you win.

The real issue here is that things have moved so fast that the majority of our adult population simply do not really understand how social media works .

We are also aware that people are signing policies without having read or understood them. So asking people to sign a paper policy does not ensure that they understand the implications of their actions.

Having a signature does, as ACAS says, cover the employer against liability, but an employee losing their job, or accidentally publishing something on line that is harmful to the organisation, is still costly all round.

Like ACAS, I prefer preventative rather than cure, it is cheaper all round. In this case it means training staff to understand the Dos and Don’ts and their responsibilities to the organisation in terms of not bringing it into disrepute and respecting privacy . And yet it is that training element that is missing in most organisations.

Navigating your way through this potentially difficult field is made somewhat easier by #think a social media policy training film produced by social media trainer Jane Binnion.

The short training film aimed at employees, simplifies the issues and encourages discussion to ensure that everyone understands the Do’s and Don’ts of social media and their responsibility to #think before they post. To see a 2 minute preview of this 7 minute the film visit http://youtu.be/p_1AFTFm3hk