I was interviewed by Boston Public Radio's Here and Now about the wild world of social media in the workplace--you can listen to the interview here. In the course of the discussion, several important points came up about the "dos and don'ts" for employers when dealing with the variety of issues resulting from social media use by employees. Here are a few of them.
Do Have a Well-Written Policy
A social-media policy that is carefully drafted can be the most effective tool that an employer can hope to have. Although policies can vary greatly depending on the culture and needs of the organization, there are a few essentials that all policies should include.
First, be sure to identify a specific contact person (with contact information) who will be the point person for employees' questions about the policy and make it clear that employees are to ask before acting any time they have any doubts about whether their intended action may violate the policy.
Second, specifically reference other company policies, such as an anti-harassment and -discrimination policy, conflicts-of-interest policy, and confidentiality policy, and make it clear that they apply equally to conduct in the online world just as they do in the "real" workplace.
Third, require all employees to report online conduct that violates any of these policies as soon as they become aware of it--without this provision, you may find that the only people who don't know about policy violations are those that are charged with its enforcement.
Do educate employees
The goal of a social-media policy is not to "trick" employees into violating it. Instead, the objective is to prevent employees from acting in a way that hurts the organization or themselves. With that in mind, employers are well advised to offer ongoing education to employees. Topics can include proper online etiquette, good online citizenship, as well as more hands-on subjects, such as how to adjust the privacy settings in a social-networking profile.
And don't rule out the value of learning by example. A discussion of headlines involving employees who are terminated or disciplined for online conduct is an excellent training tool and offers employers valuable insight about what conduct their employees find most (and least) egregious.
Don't take it personally
When an employee makes negative comments about her job, her employer, or her supervisor, employers often overreact. They tend to take the comments personally and respond with emotion instead of logic. If you discover an online post about your organization written by an employee, it's best to take a step back before you respond.
Ask yourself whether the post really impacts the organization in a negative way or whether it's more akin to traditional water-cooler gossip. Unless you can identify some kind of actual harm to the organization, you may want to consider whether disciplinary action is appropriate at all.
Don't be sneaky
"Sneaky" conduct frequently gets employers into trouble. Don't, for example, ever ask (or require) an employee or applicant to give you his password to an online account or profile. Similarly, don't have another employee give you access to her account so you can surreptitiously snoop on her coworker. Don't have someone send a friend request so you can gain access to an employee or applicant's profile without disclosing the real reason for the request. The bottom line here is, if it sounds sneaky, looks sneaky, or smells sneaky, then a jury will hold you accountable for such unpalatable behavior.