With social media playing such a large role in our lives, both at home and at work, it is becoming increasingly more important to make sure we have some checks and balances in place when it comes to what we do online.
Nowhere is this more important than for workplaces to ensure that they have developed a social media policy which is not just about workplace use, but deals with acceptable rules of engagement even at home.
It is important that we allow freedom on expression in our world so as not to erode our ability for free speech, however we must be respectful about what we say online and aware of possible consequences should things go astray.
Both employers and employees need to step up and be responsible for their actions online. Employers needs to be proactive and involve their staff in discussions about the use of social media in connection with the work place (whether during working hours or not) and staff need to understand that what they say can have a direct impact on the reputation of their employer and consequently their own position and reputation.
This goes further than making staff accountable for what they say online, but also to how a business reacts to such things. An example is highlighted in the recent decision from FairWork Australia which saw a business fined for unfair dismissal after sacking a worker following an altercation with another worker online and after hours. Smartcompany recently published an article by Patrick Stafford outlining the details of this case and you can read the article here.
Although in this case it was about unfair dismissal, the incident arose over altercations and bullying between employees. We cannot expect an employer to monitor what every worker says in their private life, however we can make it clear that particular behaviours will not be tolerated between employees (and their employers).
Another case involved a claim of misleading & deceptive conduct under the Competition and Consumer act by a leading manufacturer and designer of swimwear against a Goldcoast designer after she posted comments on her Facebook page accusing them of ripping off her designs. The designer recently lost that case.
We are all human and sometimes having a good “vent” is therapeutic, but we need to be careful that we don’t cross the line. It’s better to phone a friend than post it online. Sometimes we feel we need to validate a point, or just share a frustration online because it HAS become such a standard part of the way we communicate, but make sure the comment cannot be misconstrued, and make use of lists to share only with trusted friends. Remember though, that anything you post online can be copied and shared. It is important that we are fair and reasonable about what we expect and don’t overreact to every little post, but it is equally important to understand that sometimes a little post can end up being a big thorn in your side.
The chaos currently in the US is even more complex after various rulings were overturned leaving employees at risk of repercussions from what they post online. You can read an article from Brian Wingfield on Bloomberg.com on the US situation here.
The ways we engage online and the management of content is still very much evolving, and personally I do hope that we can allow for some “fumbling” along the way for the sake of our youth. Right or wrong, over the past 8-10 years, our children have grown up with an evolving social media space which had very little control. They see it as their online whiteboard or diary and we need to be mindful of the way we introduce change and ensure that we are involving all of the stakeholders.
There are a few simple guidelines that we can all follow to minimise any risks:
- Develop social media policy which feeds into other workplace policy such as employees code of conduct, equal opportunity and discrimination policy and make sure all your employees are aware of , and understand the polices.
- Involve your workers in the development of social media policy so that they have some ownership of it.
- Ensure both employer and employees are educated in social media etiquette and understand consequences.
- If you really need to vent, consider if the online environment is the right place, and then consider who you are sharing your views with. Naming and shaming or tagging others into an argument or disagreement is not on. DO NOT name a business or person or you may risk prosecution. It may be your page, but if you are affecting someone else’s name or business then it changes the story. (this goes for Bosses too!).
- Develop a culture of respect. This feeds into respect for your employees privacy and, as an employee, for the reputation of your workplace and fellow colleagues.
- Ensure there are clear avenues for dealing with complaints and disputes for employees and customers to minimise the risk of public postings.
Social media is still an evolving space, one that brings great exposure to the good things and conversely, negative issues. We can’t expect to promote our brands and opinions for the most part freely across the web, without being accountable for the implications and possible consequences. Promoting a transparent and ethical model of engagement on social media will go a long way towards protecting our businesses, our employees and our reputations.
Fiona is available to speak to workplace groups, schools and other interested bodies on Social Media and Online Reputation management. If you are interested in holding a workshop or booking Fiona, please contact us via the website or our facebook page at www.fb.com/irespectonline.