Thursday, June 14, 2012

Social Media Network Policy

Author:  Audrey Allen
Member – Member Services Committee
Social media networking is engrained in our personal and professional lives.  The younger generation have become totally immersed in the internet and interactive mobile technologies such as texting, instant messaging, blogging and social networking.   Consequently, it has become necessary to implement rules and regulations to efficiently manage and monitor the use of this phenomenon in the working environment.

But what is social media?  Hemsley (2012) defines social media as the set of platforms that enable “people to connect, communicate and collaborate.  Two key aspects of any kind of social software are that they allow for users to self-organize into social networks, and they support conversational interaction and social feedback that facilitates building trust and signaling reputation within a community”.

Social media is often considered only as some well-known sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.  It actually goes further however, encompassing the Internet technologies that enable people to share contents through social networks, blogs, videos, photos, wikis, online reviews.  All of these platforms work together to create a rich set of tools that allows users to find information and stay continuously connected to friends and people with whom they share interests.

The growth of social channels, networks and media tools are progressing rapidly, according to a study conducted by the Canadian Media Research Consortium in November 2011:
  • 800 million users for Facebook
  • 200 million Twitter Users per day
  • LinkedIn has over 10 million users

Benefits and Challenges

There are several benefits of social media networking, as mentioned in a SHRM 2010 Report. Your organization’s participation may

  • Increase traffic to company website
  • Improve your organization’s reputation/authority
  • Build connections
  • Assist in Recruitment
  • Obtain instant feedback
  • Conduct competitive intelligence analysis
  • Discover resources, expertise, potential prospects
  • Innovate and solve problems
  • Build a sense of community

On the other hand, there is the “dark side” of the social media.  Utililization may

  • Present a compromise to confidentiality.  Company information can be obtained by cybercriminals; consequently naïve users engaging in friendly chats may lead to unintended disclosure of company information.
  • Open up the possibility for hackers to commit fraud and launch spam and virus attacks.
  • Increase the risk of people falling prey to online scams that seem genuine, resulting in data or identity theft.
  • Result in negative comments from employees about the company or potential legal consequences if employees use these sites to view objectionable, illicit or offensive material.
  • Result in lost productivity, especially if employees are busy updating profiles, etc. Research has indicated that half of employees access Facebook during working hours. 
Why do we need a social media network policy?

The main purposes of a social media networking policy are

  1. The opportunity to build company’s brands, based on the benefits outlined earlier.  There is a need to manage and monitor what is being said about the organization
  2. Crisis Management. There is a huge risk for employees to inadvertently damage the brand of organization.  Guidelines are required to mitigate these risks.

Blocking of the social networking sites on the company network to achieve these objectives should not be considered as an option as employees also post from home.  A ban or block will likely cause frustration and resentment among younger workers. which may result in employees identifying a way around this restriction, for example through anonymous proxies which could damage corporate defenses or by leaving the organization.

The policy will therefore serve to guide employees in the use of the social media network within the workplace.  Organizations need to exert some control on how sites are used and not just hope that employees will exercise some common sense.  In addition, penalties cannot be administered for violation of rules that do not exist.  Discussions on this subject by panelists at the HRMAJ General Meeting held on Thursday, May 31, 2012, emphasized two important characteristics of the policy.  It is critical that it is explicitly clear on what is permissible and the consequences that will result in relation to any breaches to such policy.  There should also be effective communication throughout the organization as it relates to the details and implementation of the policy, with an indication of employees’ understanding and acceptance on record.   This will be very useful in the event of any possible litigation process.

While social media network policies are tailored to the needs of the organization, experts have suggested that the following elements be included:
  • Definition of social networking, particularly pertaining to your organization so employees know exactly what is meant by the term
·         Establishment of a clear and defined purpose for the policy
  • Communication of benefits of social networking and of having a policy
·         Monitoring of Employees
  • Consideration of any legal ramifications of not following laws
  • Reference to proprietary and confidential information at risk
  • Productivity in terms of social networking
  • Provides guidance regarding social networking outside of company time/property that could be associated with the company, employees or customers
  • Outline of disciplinary measures to be taken for policy violations
·         Employee’s Acknowledgment
The most concerning aspect of social networking platforms is that they encourage people to share personal information. Even the most cautious and well-meaning individuals can give away information they should not; the same applies to what is posted on company-approved social networking platforms. 
Employees may not be aware of how their actions online may compromise company security. Educate employees as to how a simple click on a received link or a downloaded application can result in a virus infecting their computer and the network.  Remember that just because employees may have an online profile, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a high level of security awareness.
The inclusion of these guidelines into your social media network policy should alleviate any possible misunderstandings which may arise with the use of this ever growing trend within the working environment.


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