Social Media, Blogs, and Social Networking
What started as online journals kept by a few people at their leisure and posted online for public viewing, have become a new way of communicating for people and businesses. Blogs (short for web log) have changed from people merely writing about their lives to focusing on specific topics that can turn personal when desired, but are intended to be more informative or gossipy than introspective or cathartic. The fact that nearly every major news outlet devotes a section of its website to the blogs of people inside and outside the organization is evidence of their functionality and significance.
Microblogs, such as Twitter, and social networking websites, including Facebook and LinkedIn, have become even more popular by connecting users and spreading the information they post virally. What’s more, any user with a smartphone can update their status or look at their social networking page anywhere, anytime — even while they are working — and never be on their employers’ computer sytems.
Many companies have remained social media-friendly despite the potential for disaster. Social media and social networking can foster interoffice communication and can be a highly effective, inexpensive means of mass marketing. On the other hand, any employee with a computer or smartphone can be easily distracted from work by posting personal opinions or reading blogs during company time. As a result, productivity and performance can suffer. The potential for trouble significantly increases when your office blogger — on or off the clock — starts posting content on the Web.
Unlike traditional print media, social networking sites and blogs have no external checks or balances. Angry and disgruntled employees have much to say about their employers, often factually inaccurate, and now have an audience of potentially millions of readers. They may think that writing under a pseudonym gives them anonymity, so they leave nothing to the readers’ imagination while venting their workplace frustrations online. They may post comments that disparage your company, defame your company’s image, harass other employees, or leak your company’s trade secrets and other sensitive information.
Because blogs and social networking have the potential to reach a worldwide audience in an instant, your office blogger’s antics could have an immediate and disastrous effect on your company’s business. Wells Fargo, Google, Delta Air Lines, CNN, and a long list of other major companies have already fired or disciplined employees for what they said about work on blogs.
If your company decides to implement a workplace social media policy, you should consider the following:
- Limit blogging that interferes with work commitments, or prohibit blogging during work time (or other specified hours).
- Prohibit employees from disclosing any information that’s confidential or proprietary to the company or any third party that has disclosed information to the company, including concepts or developments that the employees produce related to the company’s business. Refer employees to your company’s policy for guidance on what constitutes confidential information.
- Inform employees that the company may request that they temporarily confine their website or blog commentary to topics unrelated to the company if you believe that it’s advisable or necessary to comply with securities regulations or other laws.
- Caution employees that a breach of the blogging policy could result in discipline up to and including termination.