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Should Employers have a Social Media Policy?

Social media has become an incredibly valuable tool for businesses over the last several years. It not only allows a company to better brand itself, but with the proper strategies, companies can reach an exponential number of individuals at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising. Each platform has its pros and cons, but with social media being so prevalent in today’s society, many organizations have implemented social media policies. Enforcing these regulations falls squarely on the shoulders of human resource professionals.

While social media can be an ideal platform for effectively building an organization’s brand and image, improper use of social media accounts by employees can be damaging. Consider the 2013 incident when a photo of a young Taco Bell employee licking a stack of taco shells ended up on the company’s Facebook page. The photo gained national attention and caused immense backlash for the fast food chain. Instantly, Taco Bell was under fire about the handling of its products. While the company immediately addressed the situation and assured that the food in the photo was not served to any customers, the damage had already been done. While an instance like this is disturbing to patrons, it also raises an unsettling concern for employers: workers are inappropriately using social media while at work and in return hurting the company.

Likewise, an increasing number of school districts are implementing social media policies for both faculty and students. In 2013, the Glendale district in California hired Geo Listening to monitor the Facebook, Twitter and various other social media accounts of the 14,000 middle and high school students in its schools for a year. The district’s initial intentions were aimed at prevention and to create a forum for dialogue between students, their parents and the schools. During the initial pilot program, Geo Listening found that one student was speaking of committing suicide and was able to immediately intervene.

However, while the initiative had made positive strides, the Glendale’s practice of monitoring its students came under fire. “This is the government essentially hiring a contractor to stalk the social media of the kids,” stated Senior Staff Attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that defends privacy, free speech and consumer rights, Lee Tien.

A similar argument is made when companies try to enact control over their employee’s social media account. The argument is made that an employer does not have the right to limit an individual’s interaction across social media because doing such infringes on the First Amendment. Labor regulators have also recently ruled a number of companies’ policies regarding social media to be unlawful, and the National Labor Relations Board notes that employees should be able to openly discuss work conditions without the fear of repercussions whether it is face to face or via social media. However, when messages and photos on social media directly detract from a company’s profits, the case of whether an employee should be reprimanded, or even fired, for posting on social media is still a gray area.

So, what are human resource managers tasked to do in order to prevent unwanted social media postings from hurting their organizations while still abiding by the law?

Solutions for a Digital Age

While human resource managers can’t infringe on employee rights or individual rights to freedom of speech, they can help educate employees about how to properly conduct themselves and portray a company’s brand correctly. Employers should have a social media policy in place that protects against issues like workplace harassment and bullying, social media reputation, discrimination claims and violation of copyright policies. Many employers also worry about employees wasting time at work while having access to social media in the workplace. Having tools and strategies to measure and reward the level of employee engagement and productivity is imperative, as is having a Breach of Confidentiality Agreement to ensure that employees aren’t divulging private company information on social platforms or anywhere else. Through education of employees and better training, a business’s reputation can be successfully managed. In this Digital Age, human resource managers should:

  • Create a work environment where employees do not feel the need to air their grievances on social media.
  • Have a well-crafted social media policy that clearly defines acceptable usage and includes a Breach of Confidentiality Agreement. A social media policy should include: protection of the business reputation, copyright violation and intellectual property confidentiality; guidelines around the factors affecting employee productivity; firm language against cyberbullying and bullying; and clauses on employee liability and protection against employment discrimination, wrongful termination and employee disciplinary action claims.
  • Encourage the use of social media for positive communications, which will in turn help build the company’s brand.

The decision to ultimately put a social media policy in place requires much thought on both the human resource manager’s part and the part of a company’s leadership team. But to effectively come to a decision, greater education on the subject and human resources is required. With courses like Organizational Behavior and Leadership, the University of Scranton’s online Master of Science in Human Resources Management program is designed for HR professionals looking to get ahead in their careers. Academic competencies for the program include in-depth human resources training; risk management best practices applied to bullying and harassment, company reputation, and copyright violation; methods and metrics for measuring employee productivity; ethics in HR; managing organizational change during a social media policy rollout; implementing social media training for employees; and creating a social media policy for the workplace. The University of Scranton’s online Master of Science in Human Resources Management degree program is designed to give professionals an advanced understanding of human resources best practices, along with the critical-thinking and decisions-making skills need to navigate questions such as social media use in the workplace.

Take the First Step

Discover more about the online MS in Human Resources Management program and continue your education with The University of Scranton by requesting more information or calling (866) 373-9547 to speak with an admissions advisor.