Social Media Use – Does Your Company Need a Policy?

Social Media Use – Does Your Company Need a Policy?

Individuals and businesses are increasingly utilizing social media to present themselves to others, as well as to gather information. According to Statista, 78% of the United States population has a social networking profile.  By 2020, an estimated 2.95 billion people will be using social media worldwide — that’s a third of the Earth’s population. So, chances are most of your employees are using social media sites, and it’s quite possible their activity may affect more than their personal life. Employee use of social media may consume company time, open doors to security breaches, and influence public opinion and reputations.  So, should businesses adopt social media policies to keep employees on task and in check?

Use of Social Media in the Workplace

Employees are spending about one hour of their workday on social media, according to the U.S.Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and millennials are even more busy on social media, spending 1.8 hours of their workday on such sites.

The Pew Research Center did some digging on what it is that American employees are doing when they are using social media at their jobs, and it’s not all bad. Many are taking a mental break, which if limited could refresh them.  Some are connecting with other professionals in their field, gathering work-related information, or communicating with coworkers.

Of course, there are some downsides to social media use if it is a distraction that undermines productivity or if employee posts reflect poorly on employees or the business.  Then there’s the concern of over-sharing on social media that gives cybercriminals tools they can use to wage effective spear phishing campaigns.

Another workplace concern may be the use of social media by enthusiastic workers to promote the company. The Federal Trade Commission has guidelines about what is required if employees talk about their company’s products online.

The question for employers is how to adopt a company policy that minimizes the negative consequences of social media use, but that is realistic and appreciates social media’s benefits.

What Policies Are Employers Adopting?

When Pew conducted its survey, about 51% of workers said their employers had policies about how social media may be used at work, and about 32% of employers had policies governing how employees could present themselves online.

While these policies seem to reduce social media use a bit, they don’t squelch it entirely. Frankly, it seems unrealistic to think it would given social media’s prevalence and popularity. Pew discovered that 77% of workers report using social media regardless of whether their employer had a policy in place.

Employer policies vary in how they seek to limit employee behavior, and it’s important to be careful not to be overly broad.  First, setting unrealistic expectations may foster resentment among employees.  Second, the Federal government’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is looking at social media policies to ensure employees’ rights are not unlawfully restricted. Specifically, employers may not limit “protected concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act, including discussing terms and conditions of employment with fellow employees.

There are plenty of good reasons to provide guidelines to your employees about their use of social media, and there are a lot of examples of such policies to draw from.  As you craft or update your company policy, be sure to get legal sign off before putting it into action.