Growth in the use of social media has been quite phenomenal over recent years.
A really effective way to promote businesses, to attract people to events and to stay in touch, there’s no doubt that this way of communicating has its positive side. However, Twitter has hit the headlines recently in the HR world, in particular for the abuse that has been circulating about the ineffectiveness of some company’s payroll departments. Comments posted on the site, which has just celebrated its 7th birthday, were not only highly personal against individual members of some payroll team members but also contained some extremely colourful language. These events have featured in the industry press reasonably strongly and have brought the need for a social media policy to the forefront of many HR manager’s minds.
Twitter comes under particular criticism in its ability to cause offence, in part because of the shortness of the messages (140 characters long). Many communication experts believe that this is leading to childish name-calling and idle threats being made on the site. That said, there is no getting away from the fact that comments of a personal or offensive nature on social media websites can destroy lives.
Under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 it is an offence to send electronic messages, including on social media websites, that are “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”. The fact that people have been fined and jailed for so doing is evidence of how serious this sort of behavior is, but still it goes on. Irrespective of what happens in the world at large, what happens in the workplace or is related to the workplace is important for HR professionals.
So what can be done to counteract this behavior?
Acas recognises the need for action in this area and is encouraging employers to take a common sense stance to the regulation of employee’s social media behavior by drawing on norms that might apply in non-virtual settings. In other words, they are suggesting that a whole new social media policy may be unnecessary, but using the same approach as you would for face-to-face issues may in many cases resolve social media related issues. That said, they do encourage employers to have some sort of policy, because they believe this will help:
- Employers protect themselves from potential liability for the actions of their employees.
- Guide employees on what is acceptable and what isn’t with regards what they can and can’t say in their role as employee, as well as making clear monitoring and disciplinary procedures.
- Provide a structure to help line managers to manage disputes.
- To make sure that the company stays on the right side of the law.
When it comes to developing your HR policies for social media, while you’re doing so, it’s well worth looking at the broader implications of technology usage rather than just social media. Like all things “policy”, it’s important to involve key members of the management team, as well as staff in the development of any new policy, order for the policy to meet the needs of every aspect of the business. In very broad terms, the key areas for consideration are:
- Network security
- Acceptable behavior
- Data protection and monitoring
- Business objectives
- Disciplinary procedures
If you’d like help to develop your social media, or broader IT policy, why not get in touch? We can help you make sure your efforts bring the broadest benefits possible to your business.