Blog and social networking sites continue to rise in popularity as today’s tech-savvy professionals stay connected with friends, family and colleagues around the world. But, have business owners considered the impact to their company reputation when employees blur the lines between personal and professional fodder?
TriNet, a leader in providing HR outsourcing, consulting and compliance support to small and medium sized businesses globally, says more companies are seeking advice on navigating their employees’ use of online publishing mediums and addressing the use of company information in personal blogs and on Web site postings.
While most companies have guidelines on items including employee codes of conduct, and e-mail and Internet usage, most do not have a policy that includes guidelines related to employee blogging and social networking – leaving themselves vulnerable to unwanted employee situations and issues, company knowledge and criticism circulating on the Web.
“Negative employee blogging or inappropriate posts about the workplace on social networking sites presents a new, confusing and often very daunting challenge for many smaller employers,” said Jackie Breslin, director of human capital consulting for TriNet. “Business owners need to stop and ask themselves some important questions regarding their employees’ personal online usage of this growing technology in order to safeguard the company’s reputation and protect themselves from liability if legal and harassment issues arise.”
To help navigate in this new world of online publishing, TriNet urges small business owners to consider some of the following questions when it comes to setting appropriate online policies:
- How is this new online publishing medium impacting my HR policies?
- What are appropriate policies for my company regarding employee blogging and social networking?
- As an employer, what rights do I have if an employee blogs criticism about my company?
- Can I set limitations on blogging, disclosure of confidential information or the posting of other subject matter?
- Where is the line, both legally and ethically, between what is considered appropriate or inappropriate disclosure?
- When can blogging or posts be grounds for disciplinary action or possible termination?
When it comes to social networking, the Pew Internet & American Life Project states that membership on social networking utilities is exploding: 300 percent growth on Facebook, Bebo and Tagged. MySpace now has more than 115 million members, and LinkedIn is one of the fastest growing sites boasting more than 24 million users.
The Pew Foundation also suggests that when it comes to blogs, the average blog reader reads six blogs a day and spends 10 hours per week reading blogs. Of the 72 percent of U.S. adults who use the internet regularly, 45 percent are creating personal content for others to see and 32 percent actually consider themselves to be a “broadcaster” of their own media.
Due to these statistics, TriNet urges small and medium-sized businesses to consider tackling these growing online issues by keeping in mind the following tips:
- Get to know some of the popular networking sites – start by asking your employees, family and friends what sites they frequent – to determine which ones might pose a threat.
- Consider doing your own research to determine what is being said about your company online and on what sites.
- Revisit and update employee handbooks and code of conduct policies to include guidelines regarding employees’ web personas.
- Take into account that any new policy will need to be communicated to employees through training at every opportunity.
- Measure the use of company property – work time, computers and Internet connections – being used to manage personal/professional profiles on social networking sites and to update personal blogs.
- Bear in mind, employers need to be very careful with regulating behavior that happens outside of the workplace.
- Create a social networking culture by establishing a company philosophy on the subject. If managed the right way, companies can utilize blogging and social networking to foster positive and productive communication both internally and externally.