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Social Media Policies Slowly Catch On Worldwide
 

By Aliah D. Wright  2/3/2012
 

Be nice. Don’t pick fights. Own up to your mistakes. Treat others with respect and, above all, watch what you say.

Sounds like advice your mom might give you—but it’s the crux of most social networking policies at companies around the globe.

Voestalpine, headquartered in Linz, Austria, tells its employees to “act similarly in social networks as they do in real-life situations.”

The Australian Government’s Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence’s social media policy tells employees they should “strive to conduct yourself appropriately online at all times, ensuring that your participation is not likely to draw negative attention to yourself, your communities, the Centre or your home organizations.”

In 2007, the Canadian Broadcasting Co. instituted a Facebook policy, which states that employees are not allowed to add sources as Facebook friends. “It may compromise your work by letting friends see other friends on your network,” the policy reportedly states. “It may also not be in your interest to identify yourself as a ‘friend’ of a source on their network.”

Good advice, because social media not only has forever changed how employees work, it also has changed how employees, clients and customers view organizations. So says a study conducted by InSites Consulting, a marketing firm based in Belgium.

“I think one of the key changes is that a company has become more transparent from the inside and outside perspective,” InSites Consulting’s Managing Partner Steven Van Belleghem told SHRM Online during a telephone interview from Belgium.

“Employees are sharing feelings about their jobs and their employers; they’re on Facebook with their friends, and they’re putting their profiles on LinkedIn hoping headhunters will find them,” said Van Belleghem, who is a marketing professor at the Vlerick Management School in Belgium. “Employees have become the media of that company, and they share how they view that company. That was impossible 10 years ago. The consequence for HR is that their company culture becomes one of the most important marketing strategies.” Ten years ago, marketers could say what they wanted about companies—today, your employees are your mouthpiece, he said.

InSites polled more than 9,000 consumers age 15 and older across 35 countries. One universal result, InSites discovered, was that companies aren’t tapping into an important source of publicity—and that’s word-of-mouth testimonies from their employees, Van Belleghem said.

“People like to talk about their jobs—two out of three are proud of their employer and want to share, but only 20 percent are talking about their job and job satisfaction,” Van Belleghem said. “Imagine what the impact would be if they did that?” Companies could improve their brands and attract new employees and clients, he said. “There’s a lot of unused potential that companies should embrace.”

Wanted: Guidelines

Embracing transparency and allowing employees to be brand ambassadors over social media networks is the next evolution of social media, Van Belleghem and other experts say. But without a charted course, companies can enter murky waters.

Andrew Haywood, a senior associate in the employment division of Penningtons Solicitors LLP, a 200-year-old London-based law firm, told SHRM Online that companies need social media policies before an issue occurs. Most wait until it’s too late.

Apple was not one of them.

Samuel Crisp, an employee at an Apple store in the United Kingdom was apprised of the company’s social media policy when he began his job. “The policy made it clear that any commentary on Apple’s products, or critical remarks about its brand, were strictly prohibited,” Haywood wrote in a Penningtons employment update.

“Despite Mr. Crisp signing a statement confirming that he understood and accepted the company’s policy, he subsequently posted derogatory comments about his job as well as Apple’s products on his ‘private’ Facebook page. A colleague, who had access to his Facebook page, noticed the comments and reported him to the company,” Haywood wrote.

“Mr. Crisp, who was subsequently dismissed on the basis that his comments constituted misconduct, issued a claim for unfair dismissal.” In 2011, an employment tribunal in the U.K. rejected his claim because the technology company’s social media policy “made it clear to Mr. Crisp during the induction process that comments of the type he posted were strictly prohibited,” Haywood wrote.

In an interview from London, Haywood told SHRM Online that “It’s extremely important that companies have these policies in place. The starting point to defending any claim will always be the company’s social media policy.”

And experts say that policy should be part of the company’s culture.

It should be embedded within your company policy,” says Jacqueline Kuhn, spokesperson for the International Association for Human Resource Information Management Inc. (IHRIM). “When it’s embedded, it becomes just another option of how to do business. If you have it embedded in everything you do, it just becomes standard operating procedure,” she said.

Make Policies Well-Rounded

Eric Meyer, a partner at Dilworth Paxton in the labor employment group, said companies should first decide what they hope to get out of social media, and their policies should speak to anything employees publish on the Internet, including comments on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, blogs, wikis, online discussion boards, Google groups, Tumblr, and video- and photo-sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr because “any of that could impact the company.”

Good social networking policies, he said, should convey that employees should:

Exercise good judgment and common sense.

Be polite.

Pause before posting.

Not allow social networking to interrupt productivity.

Be mindful of their privacy settings.

Refrain from anonymity.

Be polite and responsible.

Be accountable and correct mistakes.

Use disclaimers or speak in the first person to make it clear the opinions expressed are not those of their employer.

Bring work-related complaints to HR, not the Internet.

Remember the audience, and that what is being said might create a perception about the employer.

Meyer noted that in the United States the policies should be guidelines, not rules.

“If you make it a rule, you may violate the [U.S] National Labor Relations Act,” Meyer explained. “Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees have the right to engage in protected concerted activity. In a nutshell, when two or more employees discuss the terms and conditions of employment in a way that’s designed or intended to effect change … they have the right to do that.”

“Part and parcel with any policy, you have to have some form of training and education,” Meyer added, “because you can’t always trust that everyone’s going to read the policy.”

Haywood’s advice: “I would say do not publish anything you would not want repeated.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

SHRM Survey Shows HR Has Active Role in Social Media Policies, SHRM Online Technology Discipline, January 2012

NLRB Issues Second Social Media Report, SHRM Online Legal Issues, January 2012

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