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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Setting staff guidelines on social media

There is growing interest among many companies in

There is growing interest among many companies in establishing a policy about employees' use of social media during business hours. Credit: Istock

There are more than 300 million people frequenting social media sites today.

Even if you're not one of them, chances are many of your employees are.

This makes it even more critical for your business to have a social media policy in place. It may be difficult to control what outsiders say about your company, but you can at least control how your employees interact on these sites with regards to your company and brand, say experts.

"People tend to blur their business and personal lives on these sites," says Diane Pfadenhauer, an employment lawyer at EP Advisors, a Northport human resources consultancy. "Sometimes statements made by the employee in a social media context could be unwittingly attributed to the employer."


Setting guidelines

That's why it's necessary to establish guidelines, notes Pfadenhauer. Large companies such as IBM (see /guidelines.html) and Intel (intel .com/sites/sitewide/en_US/so cial-media.htm) have already done so, and small businesses should as well.

It's not clear how many small businesses have social media policies, but there is growing interest locally, according to Pfadenhauer, who says she has gotten numerous requests from clients to revise employee handbooks to include a social media policy.

"There are so many people on Facebook and all these sites," says Rita Colantuoni, an administrator at Melville Surgery Center, who recently had EP Advisors draft the company's social media policy as a precautionary measure since many employees are on Facebook. "You can't ignore it anymore."

The company's policy prohibits employees from discussing the facility, patients, doctors or employees on these sites.

"You have to be careful what employees are saying," says Colantuoni, noting this is especially true in regulated industries like health care.

Employees need to understand all the rules that apply to the rest of their lives are also applicable in a social media setting, explains Steven Helland, chair of the Internet and technology group at the Minneapolis law firm of Fredrikson & Byron.

This includes company harassment policies as well as their ability to discuss confidential information, says Helland.

He suggests blocking social media sites at the workplace unless employees need them for their jobs.


Restricting accessIn fact, a survey by the American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute found that 65 percent of employers were using URL blocks to stop employees from visiting inappropriate Web sites, and that of those, 50 percent were specifically blocking access to social media sites, says Nancy Flynn, executive director of the Ohio-based institute and author of "The e-Policy Handbook" (Amacom; $19.95).

This isn't feasible for every company, notes Flynn, who offers guidelines for creating a social media policy at amacom /13/guest-post-nancy-flynn-on-creating-a-social-media-policy/.

Companies like HJMT Communications, a public relations/social media firm in Westbury, need employees to interact on these sites.


Establishing boundaries"You don't want to be too limiting," says HJMT president Hilary Topper, author of "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Social Media But Were Afraid to Ask" (iUniverse; $27.95). Still, Topper has a social media policy in place.

"She's pretty open with the policy," notes Kristie Galvani, a senior vice president at HJMT who is on multiple social networking sites and has a blog. Still, Galvani, understands there are boundaries.

"I really think about what I post," she notes.



Tips for social media in the workplace


- Prohibit employees from defaming, harassing or posting inappropriate comments about anyone.

- Prohibit employees from disclosing confidential, sensitive, proprietary, secret or private information about the company, employees or customers.

- Stress that compliance with social media policy is mandatory at all times, even during off-work hours.

- Monitor to ensure compliance.

Source: ePolicy Institute


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