Managing the Risks of Social Media in the Workplace

Social media is a powerful tool that can have a profound impact on how people see your business. In the right hands, social media provides numerous opportunities to promote your company’s culture and ethics, develop customer relationships, and build a positive reputation in your industry. When it’s misused by an employee, however, it can present many risks that your company would rather avoid.

So what can your company do to minimize the challenges posed by these widespread communications channels? The first step is understanding where these platforms can put your company at risk. After that, it’s simply a matter of creating a well-defined, proactive strategy that helps you manage employee social media usage effectively. Or at the very least, lays down the rules for employee behavior while using these social platforms.

What Are the Risks?

If HR and learning teams are to minimize the risks of employees using social media, it’s important to know what you’re up against. Here are just a few of the risks associated with social media misuse at work.

Company Time & Resources

Employees that use social media at work not only risk wasting company time, they sometimes use company resources – like laptop and desktop computers, smartphones, and tablets – to access these platforms. This can lead to overuse or misuse of company equipment, as well as the potential for misuse of company branding, intellectual property, and email accounts, which can all impact your company’s reputation.

Security & Privacy Issues

Despite the efforts of social media platforms to beef up their security, criminals still seem to find a way around it, making social media one of the easier targets for hacking, phishing, and other malicious online attacks. What’s more, data privacy issues can arise when an employee shares or posts information about a colleague, client, or vendor without their permission, even if it’s unintentional.

Unhealthy Online Behavior

Social media provides lots of opportunities to engage an audience with positive stories and interactions. But it can just as easily be used to criticize your company, employees, clients, or the industry itself.

In addition, these platforms pose a unique risk for online harassment, like when an employee discusses something hurtful or personal about a colleague, or shares content that is meant to be insightful or amusing but is actually disparaging in some way.

Conflicts of Interest

Social media can blur the lines between personal and professional opinions, and it may draw your company into the conversational crossfire if people link an employee’s message with the brand they represent.

While conflicts of interest can take many forms, any time an employee leverages their position, company resources, or anything that conflicts with their duty or loyalty to the company while using social media, it can present certain organizational risks and challenges that will need to be addressed.

Managing Social Media in the Workplace

One of the best things HR and learning teams can do to ensure employees use social media effectively is to create a social media policy that guides employees to the right behaviors. If you haven’t put together a social media policy yet, or it’s time to review your company’s current policy, here are some points that should be included.

Raise Awareness

Using social media carelessly can lead to lots of potential hazards for your company and employees. While most of us have a habit of posting whatever is on our mind, it’s important to let employees know how some posts can impact their personal, professional, and company’s reputation – and in some cases, even their careers.

Include a Statement of Purpose

As with any new policy, it’s important for employees to understand why your new or improved social media policy is taking place. A statement of purpose helps define why the company engages on social media and how it should be used. This is also a good time to lay out the details of what this policy covers, as your organization may want to go beyond common platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to include things like blogs, message boards, chat rooms, and video websites like YouTube.

Set Recommendations and Guidelines

What your employees can communicate on social media – whether it’s about the business, its clients, or other employees – should be spelled out plainly in your company’s policy. Can they discuss company downsizing or the acquisition of a new client? Can they post about industry challenges or problems at work? Your social media policy’s recommendations and guidelines should answer these questions and more to ensure everybody is on the same page.

Provide Training

Instead of simply sending out your company’s social media policy and expecting employees to read it and comply, provide additional education and training around the subject to ensure the information is solidified.

All too often, employees give codes of conduct and policies a quick scan before hitting the delete button. With supplementary training, however, you can reinforce the motivations that drive your company’s policy, and provide employees with the skills and understanding to enforce their own positive behavior online.

Review Your Policy Frequently

The social media landscape is constantly changing, so your policy should be too. To ensure your policy is making a real impact and is always up to date, send out employee surveys to gauge how everything is working, then readjust your policy based on your findings. Some businesses also monitor employee accounts connected to the organization (e.g. LinkedIn) as part of bolstering company and employee privacy. But it can also help you identify items that may be missing from your policy.

When it comes down to it, your social media policy should be most concerned with minimizing your legal liability, as well as protecting your employees, your brand, and your company’s culture.

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