Thursday, 24 March 2011

Essentials for a Company Social Networking Policy

With the ever increasing popularity of social networking websites, businesses are finding it difficult to adapt to employees tweeting, updating their statuses and blogging in the workplace or about the workplace. Their response has been to simply block or ban these activities, however employers are now learning that social networking can have its advantages for businesses.

Employees in the community can enhance the company's reputation as well as bring in more business, as long as social networking is used correctly. Large companies especially are encouraging their employees to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and various blogs and forums to communicate positively about their business. Some control, however, is necessary to ensure that employees are using common sense. Rules must be presented both with regard to the company's social network as well as networking outside of that if employees are identifying themselves as representatives of your business. Even if your business decides to simply ban social networking at the company level, employees may still be publishing posts, pictures, and more that could harm the reputation of your company. This is why it is important to establish a social networking policy.

Here are our five most helpful tips for establishing an effective company social networking policy:

1. A Clear Company Philosophy
You must first decide what the company's overall attitude toward social networking it is. Define the parameters of social networking use -whether you will ban it, limit the websites employees can use or give full access and encourage them to use it and incorporate it into their working time.

2. The Definition of "Social Networking"
Some social networking may not have as clear a definition as Facebook or LinkedIn. For example, would you consider it appropriate for your employees to use Flickr (a photo-sharing website), Indaba (a site musicians use to collaborate), or LiveJournal (a personal blogging site)? It is important to set well defined rules for social networking, as you may lose productivity if too many websites are being used.

3. Identifying as an Employee of the Company
It is important to define in your policy whether employees can identify on their social networking websites as employees of your company. As most social networking websites have areas in profiles for this information, this is an important parameter to define. If you do allow employees to associate with your company on their website and/or blog, ensure that you have policies clearly defining what they can and can't do and, in the case of a blog, have your employee write a disclaimer that their views do not represent the views of the company.

4. Recommending Others and Referring to Clients, Customers or Partners
Some websites, such as LinkedIn, allow members to write recommendations for other members. If your employee has identified as such on the website, it could appear that it is your company writing a recommendation for this individual. As such, businesses often include rules about such recommendations in their policies.
It is also important to ensure employees do not reference clients, customers or partners without their express permission to do so, as even a positive reference could be taken as a negative one, and also competition may be able to use it to your company's disadvantage.

5. Confidentiality, Copyright and Other Issues
Though confidentiality may seem like an obvious practice to employees, social networking sites are often informal and so confidentiality is often forgotten. Companies often forbid the sharing of company information on such sites, even in private messages. Be sure to explicitly tell employees what cannot be shared, such as financial information, intellectual property, customer information, etc.
You should also ensure that employees are aware they cannot post someone else's work without permission and that there are serious consequences to such acts as libel or defamation of character, such as lawsuits against them or even against the company itself.

Social networking can be a positive asset for companies if used correctly. Check back regularly for more helpful tips about social networking and computer use in general. We also offer courses on the subject - visit for full course descriptions, dates and locations.

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