If one summer poolside conversation is anything to go by, there seems to be growing evidence of companies trying to ring-fence their organisations against the social media activity of their employees. It’s no longer simply just the odd high-profile, headline cases or instances of individuals being disciplined for posting sensitive content about their bosses, jobs or inferior cafeteria food. Nor is it about the use of company time for social networking. This is a wider spread, behind the scenes movement to restrict or clarify employee social media activity (depending on your view-point) via changes to employment contracts and the issuing of new conditions of service.
Sophie, an associate in a London-based consulting firm told me that she had recently been asked not to tweet on issues in the organisation’s geographic reach. As an international market leader, the activities of this company span many countries, so this was a significant restriction on what she considered to be her freedom of speech. An Account Manager who has been using LinkedIn for identifying prospects for business development purposes, has received a request from his manager to disconnect from these members. He was informed that the only information on the prospect should be on the company data base. An employee has also been asked to uncheck the options contact for career opportunities and job inquiries on his LinkedIn profile and to post a restricted career history.
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The corporate world has always lagged behind the wider culture with regard to social media usage and as I predicted some time ago, some sort of ” catch-up” attempt was therefore inevitable. Employees can realistically expect to have the following conditions imposed on them in the forseeable future:
- Prohibition of the use of employer-related information in any kind of employee postings
- Restrictions on usage of social media sites during office hours using company hardware and systems
- Prohibition on the disclosure/use of any sensitive, proprietary, confidential or financial information about the business or its clients
- Prohibition of employee endorsement, direct or implicitly of the organisation’s business in any statement or posting
- Prevention of engagement in conduct that would violate the employer’s other workplace policies, such as anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies
- Information relating to any disciplinary policies up to and including termination of employment for infractions or violations of company policy
- Never release the passwords of their social media accounts to third parties
- Always use a private email address rather than a business one for all social media contact if in any doubt about how their social media activities will be perceived by their organisations
- Never block a connection on LinkedIn on the instructions of a superior. This action is irreversible and the connection may be needed later
- Discuss openly with any manager who requests a restriction on contact possibilities on a LinkedIn profile. Career opportunities, job inquiries, new ventures and business deals can also afford opportunities for the organisation, not just the individual. It is also a personal profile so individuals should be able to present their career history in any way that doesn’t damage the business interests of their employer.
The rub of course lies in this final point and where the overlap of personal and corporate interests become hazy. Overall, the social media revolution represents a fundamental shift in the way we communicate and the value of the opportunities is significant to all. What should be in place are measures that protect organisations and employees alike.
Have you been formally asked to restrict your social media activities via new conditions of service and employment? Please share your experience.
Great post Dorothy. Oh how pleased this makes me that I work for myself. It also makes me very proud of the BBC – when I worked with them they actively encouraged social media engagement!
Thanks Wendy – yes there seems to be contractual “creepage” to prevent employees being professionally visible via social media. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next 12 months.
I have written a lot of social media policies but my fundamental starting point is that people do have a right to their own social media contacts UNLESS their role is particularly sensitive and even then there are other ways to sort this out (eg link with your sales person’s contacts, dont leave them as the only point of call!!).
We need a grown up way of dealing with this – social media is no longer a teenagers thing and managers have to get beyond banning everything. You wouldnt prevent a rep from keeping contact telephone numbers on their mobile would you?
Thanks Dorothy, I totally agree with you – for me, it’s the underlying attitude towards social media that is the real problem. If a firm considers itself a market-leader in its field, which mine does, it can gain much more from social media by taking a positive – rather than a defensive – attitude. If we’re as good as we think we are, we should be confident in showcasing our staff assets and connections to others without fear that they will run off to a competitor or that someone will steal or our ideas; we should see these platforms as opportunities rather than threats. Sadly this sort of reaction often shows a fierce desire to reign in staff instead of giving them reasons to be proud of their organisation…
Sophie I agree entirely. Thanks for your comment. Companies should be motivating their employees to stay rather than ring fencing them in with social media bans, provided that certain guidelines are respected?