Hardly a week goes by when the national press doesn’t carry a story about how social networks represent a threat to privacy or security, or both. These news stories aren’t wrong: Users of social networks face a raft of risks, ranging from malware attacks and identity theft, to cyber-bullying, grooming from sexual predators or stalkers, viewing or posting inappropriate content, and the ever-present risk that you (or someone you work with) might end up with your foot (or is it your keyboard?) firmly in mouth.
Using social networks to give out too much information about yourself can also lead to some predictably poor outcomes. One Australian employee, fired from his job, had posted about skiving from work after a night of heavy drinking. A group of call centre employees swapped brags about abusing customer information on Facebook and were fired. Is it hard to believe that the employer used the employees’ own Facebook posts as a virtual admission of guilt?
With Facebook adding over 400,000 users a day and LinkedIn 400,000 a week, social networks can no longer be ignored by employers, as employee misuse of social networks accelerate.
In another incident that’s received widespread publicity, a juror serving on a criminal trial posted details of the court case to Facebook — even generated a poll to ask friends how they would vote as a juror — and ended up being dismissed from the trial as a result. In another, jurors who posted trial details to Facebook caused a mistrial.
Employers also need to be careful how they use social media. It’s one thing for one partner to send another a Dear John letter through social media, but it’s something completely different for an employer to use Facebook as the means to terminate an employee’s position. And yet, that’s exactly what happened to one UK teenager who was let go.
The Web itself has long served a dual role as business productivity tool and as a time waster of dubious value. A multitude of surveys demonstrate how workplace access to the Web can lead to the loss of productive work time.
- 7 percent of workers cite web surfing as their No. 1 distraction at work. –AOL & Salary.com
- Employees waste more than 2 hours a day on recreational computer activities. (ibid.)
- “30 percent to 40 percent of Internet use in the workplace is unrelated to business.” –IDC
Businesses have grappled with this dual-role for some time. On the one hand, keeping employees productive is important. But maintaining morale, not to mention staying abreast of trends along with competitors and industry members in an increasingly connected world, can be equally valuable. Spam filtering, for example, is one way for businesses to maintain employee productivity and reduce distraction and risk. The question that I keep asking myself is, “Why have so many companies embraced email filtering for security, but so few adopt Web filtering?”
Some companies have revised their internal Acceptable Use Policies to cover what workers can and can’t do, with regard to usage, postings, and commentary on social networks. This is a good first step for any business: Allowing random employees to post offhand comments on the business or its customers can expose your business to unexpected (and undesirable) publicity—and not the good kind. But social media moves so quickly, even an AUP may not cover every conceivable circumstance where an employee might cause a public uproar.
If you wouldn’t allow your employees to speak to the press, consider the immediacy and wide availability of a commentary posted to a social network. Anyone within the company can self-publish damaging or embarrassing information to the world in seconds.
With no guidelines or controls in place, companies find themselves in the middle of a minefield, with any wrong move coming at potentially great cost to the business. If you own a business where employees have access to the Internet, it makes sense to set up those rules now, so your employees know exactly what they’re allowed to do, and what topics they shouldn’t post about.