Do you need a social media policy in your workplace?

As revolutions go, social media is still in its infancy, but it’s making its presence felt in the workplace, whether sanctioned or covert. In fact, an overwhelming majority (78 per cent) of employers are concerned that social media is hindering productivity, according to research by Robert Half.

Employers of small and medium-sized businesses tend to be more worried about social media use and abuse than larger organisations, according to the results. Meanwhile, public sector agencies are slightly less concerned than private companies.

Social media platforms have amassed more than a billion users over the past decade, and it accounts for up to a quarter of total internet activity. In Australia, a raft of online users are accessing social media on a daily basis. They’re hitting company computers and their own smartphones and devices to post, comment or check status feeds at home, in transit and on the job. The latter practice has forced the introduction of policies that restrict or ban the use of social media at work.

For or against

Many policies occur only as a knee-jerk response to an unwitting or deliberate online gaffe. Politicians and private citizens, big brands and small businesses have all fallen foul of social media etiquette, risking reputation and facing costly legal disputes – the outcome of which will be publicly available forever.

Wenee Yap, author of Social Media Law and Marketing, sees these breaches as an inability to adapt to a “two-way media stream”. That, along with the complexities of burgeoning social media law (an unwieldy mix of “defamation, intellectual property rights, privacy violations, consumer law disputes and commercial law”), has led many businesses to avoid social media altogether.

Controlling the message

Above all, it is wise to develop a social media policy that reduces the risk of lawsuits from online defamation, bullying and harassment. Anthea Karras, a lawyer with Surry Partners, cautions against blanket bans on social media in the workplace.

Instead, she advises employers to develop a social media policy that clearly sets out “expectations, boundaries, obligations and conditions of use” so employees know whether their conduct, even outside of the office, “could be in breach”.

But there’s more to it than that. Employers navigating this new frontier also need to be aware of social media’s influence on workplace productivity.

Two recent studies tracked workers’ social media activity alongside work performance and came to the conclusion that “digital connectivity appeared to boost metrics like productivity and retention”. Another survey found that there may be generational issues at play, with baby boomers reportedly more distracted by social media at work than Gen Y, who instead blame bullying for low productivity.

Getting started

There is no one-size-fits-all social media policy. It’s important that organisations tailor the rules to suit their own circumstances.

For example, Telstra’s 3Rs of Social Media Engagement is relatively straightforward, while the policy from Victoria’s Department of Justice runs across several pages. Deloitte’s social media policy incorporates aspects of its HR and IT policies, as well as confidential information guidelines, all of which now apply “in the social media space”.

Social media policies aren’t all about restrictions. Some appoint dedicated social media teams to create and manage appropriate messaging to engage internal and external stakeholders. Others focus more on legal issues or on keeping up with technology and the rapidly changing social media space.

The best policies are conceived as a team effort, with external professionals contributing when necessary. Businesses should regularly review and update policies to suit changing times and to take advantage of the benefits that these innovative networking platforms can provide.

Does your organisation have a social media policy? We'd like to hear more about it in our comments section.

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