For an entrepreneur the first step when establishing a business is to have a strong web identity. But along with your and your company’s social media, it’s essential to ensure your employees don’t have a bad image online. After all your workers represent your brand.
Consider this situation – a hypothetical employee Jake has strong opinions which he likes to share on Twitter. Occasionally his love of a good argument can get the better of him and he starts trading insults with friends, colleagues and complete strangers. Another employee, Anna is generally mild-mannered but can get a bit lairy on Instagram and Facebook after a few too many drinks, which results in the occasional regretful sarcastic comment about a work colleague.
Although Jake and Anna both are your staff members as an employer it’s common to think that everyone is entitled to an opinion and surely what they do outside the workplace is their private business. But what if one of your clients came across one of their more offensive tweets or posts? What if the opinions they shared are construed as racist, sexist or homophobic? What if an employee came to you saying that Jake and Anna were guilty of workplace harassment or bullying?
This is just one of the many headaches for business owners created by the emergence of social media. Its intimate nature tends to confuse people into thinking that they are simply having a private conversation or indulging in a bit of friendly banter, rather than sharing their opinions in a public forum. Inevitably this banter can include comments or criticisms of customers or work colleagues – we all like to moan occasionally – with often-disastrous results for people’s careers and their reputation. It doesn’t take an expert to see how many entrepreneurs have been in crisis due to their employees’ social media posts. In fact an industrial tribunal in Australia has even ruled that unfriending a colleague on Facebook amounts to workplace bullying.
It’s a complex issue, with the individual’s right to free speech clashing with the employer’s understandable desire to protect its reputation. Even if an employee believes they are using social media in a purely private capacity, this offers little defence in the event of behaviour that damages the reputation or involves the disclosure of confidential information. As far as the law is concerned, the fact that private comments on social media can be easily shared by others means business leaders can have no real expectation of privacy. As a result, people have been dismissed for making inappropriate comments about their boss, customers or colleagues, expressing what are deemed to be unacceptable viewpoints that could be considered damaging to the reputation of their employer and sharing sensitive information.
It’s therefore wise not to turn a blind eye to your employees’ use of social media. However, you shouldn’t assume you have an automatic right to monitor their activities. Data protection regulations in most countries require employers to have a good reason to check their employee’s social media activities. The employer must demonstrate that any monitoring is reasonable, proportionate and relevant to the performance of the job.
The solution is light touch monitoring. Explain to your employees you reserve the right to keep a tab on their social media activities where it might have a negative impact on the welfare or reputation of the organisation. Invite any members of your team to report any inappropriate behaviour to senior management and remind them that criticising colleagues and customers is a completely unacceptable as is any form of racist, sexist or homophobic comment.
Indeed, by virtue of its name, social media doesn’t occur in a vacuum—a post that was originally meant for just a few hundred of your followers can wind up on the front page of viral news site like Reddit. So at the end of the day, by having a social media policy for your workers, you’re protecting them as much as yourself and often the knowledge that the boss might occasionally check out what they are saying on social media can have a suitably sobering effect.