The misuse of social media among employees is skyrocketing, according to the 2014 survey ”Social Networks in the Workplace Around the World” conducted by the international legal group Proskauer Rose LLP. In fact, 70% of businesses reported taking disciplinary action against social media misuse in the office. That’s not so surprising given that 90% of companies now use social media for business purposes. After all, the more that people use social media for business, the more likely that the fine line between personal and business use will blur, noted the researchers.
The good news is that nearly 80% of companies today have social media policies in place, a significant increase over 60% reported last year. More than half of those businesses have also updated their policies within the last year. In addition, most of these organizations are now taking precautions to protect against specific risks associated with the misuse of social media, such as:
- Misuse of confidential information (80%)
- Misrepresenting the company’s views (71%)
- Inappropriate non-business use (67%)
- Disparaging remarks about the business or employees (64%)
- Harassment (64%)
In many cases, that policy is to restrict employees’ use of social media in the office. More than a third (36%) of employers actively block access to such sites, compared to 29% last year; 43% allow all employees to access social media sites today, a 10% decrease from last year. An area that still isn’t getting enough attention, however, is employee training. Only about 38% of businesses train their employees on the appropriate use of social media; a very slight increase from last year’s 33%.
Proskauer noted that there are no actual laws or statutes specifically addressing the issue of monitoring social media usage, although the National Labor Relations Act plays a pivotal role in this issue in the United States. Consequently, the common approach to this issue is to apply general legal principles, especially drawing analogies from case law pertaining to other technologies (such as e-mail).
“In most [countries], the approach of the courts is to seek to balance, often on a case-by-case basis, an employer’s right to demand that employees attend to their work with the employee’s right to maintain personal privacy. Where data protection laws exist, such regulations limit the scope and methodology of collection and the eventual usage of information gathered by an employer’s social media surveillance,” the group stated in the survey report.
Proskauer offered the following tips to businesses based on its research and experience:
- Conduct annual audits to ensure your practices and policies comply with the developing legal requirements.
- Make training a priority, it can play a key role in reducing the risk of misuse.
- Identify specific risks, such as those mentioned earlier (misuse of confidential information, misrepresenting the views of the business, inappropriate nonbusiness use, disparaging remarks about the business or employees, and harassment); and ensure that other policies dealing with these matters expressly refer to social media.
- Implement clear guidelines so those individuals who use social media for work purposes know the boundaries.
- Don’t forget ex-employees; be sure to implement explicit provisions preventing the misuse of social media by ex-employees.
This is the third year of this survey, which included responses from a broad range of businesses, many with a global presence. The countries represented were Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Spain, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
If your organization is one of those that still doesn’t have a social media policy, a good place to start is with ARMA International’s publication on the topic. Using Social Media in Organizations (TR 21-2012) is available for purchase as a PDF download or in hard copy through ARMA’s online bookstore at www.arma.org/bookstore.