Controlling Social Media Among Employees

by Faith Seekings

As the title of our next event The Real Impact of Social Media on Business indicates, we believe the impact goes much deeper than marketing. Another kind of impact is the control over employees that has come up, and related ethical conundrums.

Controlling Employees on Social Media?

Whether it’s blocking access to Facebook during work hours, the threat of firing them over something they see on their personal Facebook page, or cyberstalking prospects, employers are exerting control over employees use of social media. How far is too far?

No Facebook During Work Hours

When Facebook went mainstream, everyone wasted hours at a time on this addictive platform catching up with grade school chums or extended family, causing many employers to have such sites completely blocked by their IT department. An IT professional friend of mine who performs such blocks told me 1) that time spent visiting social sites and porn sites is about equal and 2) that he watched employees spend hours trying to find a way around the Facebook block one night. They spent way more time trying to break through the block then they would have on Facebook itself, and they were security guards on a graveyard shift – they had absolutely nothing to do. What would’ve been so bad about allowing it at 2 am? What would probably be more useful than trying to block it (you can’t now that everyone has smartphone anyway) is set ground rules and expectations around getting their work done, and maybe including props for your company while they’re on there.

But I Was in College…

Many employers/recruiters now use social media as a way to investigate potential hires and to keep an eye on their employees. However, some of the uses and stories I’ve heard cross the line. Employees or prospects are no longer allowed to have a private life. You will hear parents telling kids that they need to be careful what they post on Facebook because future educational institutions or employers will judge them on it. You never know how one silly photo or drunken tweet can affect your future career. But is that really fair? Why has technology made it so we are not allowed to do the normal social things that everyone does

There was a story of a schoolteacher who got fired from her job after photos of her at a party were posted on Facebook. Perhaps they were considered inappropriate if her young students might have seen her drunk or behaving badly, but she was not on the clock when she was at this party. So where do you draw the line? If you expect an employee to be representing the company 24 hours a day, shouldn’t you be tripling what you pay them

What if They Trash You?

Speaking badly about the company they work for or its clients publicly, or leaking classified information is a different story. Likewise, I have heard stories about prospective employees complaining about the interview they just had with a lame company, not realizing their potential new boss/recruiter might see it. A wise man once said ‘if you are an idiot, everyone will find out really fast on social media.’ But, most of us aren’t idiots. Most of us learned from early adopters’ mistakes and understand the consequences.

Set Guidelines and Expectations Up Front

I think the point is we all have to be smart about social activity and draw lines. Part of that is the company setting boundaries and telling employees what is expected of them upfront. To do that you’d need to set clear ground rules and guidelines, like you’ll only hold things you see against people if they are illegal. Create guidelines like ‘we can’t control what you do on your private page, so to be safe please don’t talk about the company or clients at all’ and have them sign an NDA. Maybe there are different rules for people in high profile roles. Then, decide how you would deal with bad behaviour before it happens. And share all this with employees as they come on. Even get their input!

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