Four winning tips to effectively handle social media use in the workplace

However, excessive use of social networking sites can be disruptive to the day-to-day running of a business and it makes sense to set some ground rules if you are concerned that your employees are spending too much of their working day networking online.

1. Decide what you think is ‘acceptable use’ of the internet and create a policy to reflect this

The policy should set out what is deemed acceptable behaviour when using the company’s IT systems (e.g. accessing social media sites only at lunch or not at all) and explain what will happen if that policy is breached.

Make it clear that any use of the internet is a privilege that can be revoked at any time.

If you monitor or intercept emails or internet usage, you should make this explicit to members of staff. Undisclosed monitoring can be against employment law. This policy should be in your terms of conditions of employment, either in the contract of employment or employee handbook.

2. Handle negative employee comments with care

A reported one in 10 employees has posted negative comments about their boss on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and the Forum’s advice team receive numerous calls from members who want to take disciplinary action against members of staff for what they’ve posted on personal Facebook accounts. However there are a few issues that come into play here.

For an employer to be able to discipline a member of staff, you first need to have a specific internet policy which addresses social media. It also depends on whether the user has an open or closed profile. If it is public, their comments about your business will be there for anyone to see, but if they were made on a private profile, this is the equivalent of a discussion between friends and it would be difficult to take any action.

If the incident escalates to an employment tribunal, you would need to be able to prove that the comments were made in a public domain and demonstrate that you have a social media policy in place, which has been clearly communicated.

3. Decide if you need to create a specific workplace policy when it comes to social media

Depending on your company’s involvement in social media, you may need to extend your internet policy to include social media, or you can create a separate policy.

Unlike a standard internet policy, which covers use of internal IT systems, you cannot dictate what members of staff do outside of working hours. You can, however, take disciplinary action if they post negative comments about the company in the public domain.

To discourage this type of activity and protect your business, a social media policy should outline what is deemed unacceptable behaviour and what is likely to happen if the policy is ignored. If staff use social media on behalf of your company with your permission, it’s also wise to outline in your social media policy how you expect them to conduct themselves online. This is especially important if you don’t want sensitive information to get out into the public domain.

As with internet usage, ideally the social media policy should be part of the terms and conditions of employment/staff handbook, but can also be an addendum to it. If this is the case, we advise that you get the staff to sign to say they have read the policy and understand what is expected.

4. Regular monitoring is key!

It’s important to constantly monitor what is being said about your business online, by employees and non-employees. The easiest way to do this is to carry out regular searches on Google and key social media sites.

Members of the Forum can contact the business advice team on 0845 130 1722 for further guidance on this and other employment issues or visit www.fpb.org.

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