Embrace social media as a tool, say area experts, but be smart about it

Posted: August 9th, 2017

Midlands Business Journal – Article by Michael Foutch
June 23, 2017

For businesses looking for a status update on social media policies, area experts recommend balancing employee freedom with protecting the brand.

Social media covers a wide variety of online behavior, including sharing information, posting on sites, chatting, and exchanging gossip, opinions on what’s happening around the world or around the office, said Michelle Petersen, HR Manager at Omaha’s Noll Human Resource Services.

“I think the biggest trend we are seeing is employees using social media platforms during work time,” she said.

Such acts in turn spark workplaces to prohibit employees from using social media while on the clock, and accessing such sites only on breaks or lunchtime, and only on their personal devices.

James S. Pieper, attorney at Omaha firm Vandenack Weaver, said “as employers begin to implement, navigate, and enforce social media policies, there is a growing body of authority that continues to limit employers from unlawfully restricting employee expression.”

As social media policies cannot restrict employees from discussing certain working conditions online, Pieper said, employers can define what is considered confidential information and the consequences of disclosure, discuss the proper way to engage others online and provide examples, and discuss what is considered illegal.

What is considered illegal is shifting. Last year, Pieper said, Nebraska adopted a workplace privacy act that sets limit on what employers can require in terms of the private social media accounts of employees.

“At the same time, it also clarified certain areas where the employer can act to protect its interests,” Pieper explained. ‘Many employers are also unaware that policies that seek to restrict what employees can express online regarding their workplace might violate federal labor law.”

Pieper claimed the best policies include the consequences of rule infractions and define what actions lead up to an infraction and include termination.

“That leaves no room for equivocation,” he said.

On the other hand, company social media platforms also can provide an excellent forum showcasing employee creativity and personality, Pieper added.

“Employers simply need to designate a clear policy about who is permitted to post on company platforms and how non-posting employees can forward their ideas on for consideration,” he said.

Machael Durham, president of Durham Staffing Solutions, said some companies are “encouraging their team members with incentives to share messages on their own social media accounts.”

This, Durham said, is a creative option to enhance branding and marketing for their firm in a cost-effective manner- with a personal touch.

“With the proper guidelines in a place, employees possess the knowledge and comfort zone to utilize technology to create, publish, share, interact and market for their company,” Durham said. “Employee social advocacy programs will tap into a larger market.”

Employees also should use personal email addresses on social media rather than an employer-provided one, she added, and when commenting, ensure they’re designated as personal opinions rather than those on behalf of the company.

Policies should include some sort of privacy language requesting that an employee does not share confidential information, company information, and proprietary information, Petersen said, “ but still feel encouraged to express themselves. Of course, the general rule on any social media platform is don’t post anything you don’t want your boss or grandmother to see,” such as vulgar language, inappropriate posts or responses, or threats and harassment.

Social media guidelines also should cover the gamut of technological experience.

“Baby boomers are less affected by the policies due to utilizing social media platforms less frequently,” Petersen said, “whereas millennials are more affected due to being more active on social media sites.”

But: “Most millennials and baby boomers alike understand why there is a need for a policy as well,” she said.