Social networking is part of the new normal in business, according to Gartner. Understandably, not every company can go so far as, say, Zappos.com or Southwest Airlines in their enthusiasm. But it's also not smart to ignore it. At some level, employee use of social networking tools should be addressed and a policy adopted.
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, a friend noted that he had attended a seminar on social media in business and found it very helpful. One of the attorneys who presented that seminar is Mitzi Wyrick, from the Louisville offices of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs. After looking at the slide deck my friend sent my way, I contacted Wyrick. Tuesday, I got the chance to speak with her.
Essentially, she said, employers have two choices when it comes to employee use of social networking tools on company time: They can ban it completely, or allow it and decide how they're going to regulate it.
"In some ways I think it's easier to treat social networking use the same way the company treats employee Internet use," she told me. "If they're allowed to use it, as long as they're not using it excessively, social networking shouldn't be any different."
But there are certain things companies should be mindful of when creating their social networking policies. They want to protect their intellectual property, so employees shouldn't be posting about things they're working on, Wyrick said. Policies should also prohibit harrassment or discrimination against other employees, as well as posting "anything that would cast the company in a bad light."
Once the policy is created, employers should communicate it to employees. Post it in the breakroom, include it in the employee handbook, distribute it separately in a memo or a letter. And have employees sign to acknowledge that they've received it and read it. That way, Wyrick said, you avoid situations later where an employee says he doesn't understand why you're disciplining him since he didn't even know there was such a policy.
After the policy has been created and communicated, it must be consistently enforced. It does no good to have a policy if some violations have consequences and others do not. Not that someone has to devote all of his or her time to monitoring employee activity on different social networking sites. In fact, Wyrick said she wouldn't recommend that. But once the company becomes aware of a post that violates company policies, it must be addressed in accordance with the policy. Then, the second (and third, fourth, etc.) time that kind of violation occurs, it must be addressed in the same way as the first.