Why have one?

In the first of this three part series we ask the question, why have a social media policy?

Whether you are in the office, a café, on a tram or on the couch at home – what can you see all around you? In fact, you’re looking right at one and there are likely several others in close proximity. They are ubiquitous, ever more pervasive, immersive, interactive and always-on…

Screens. 

We live in a screen culture, yet it’s not so much the screens themselves but what we are accessing through them that is important. We have access to just about anything and the means to communicate with others online any time, any place, instantly.

Screen culture enables us to take our life to work, and our work home to take a seat at the dinner table. This means our work-life boundaries are blurred and what we say online to our friends and family can often be seen (and misconstrued) by an unintended and much wider audience including our colleagues, professional contacts, employers – or worse yet, journalists.

Employees are able to communicate in whatever way screen technology and the internet allows. The only real boundaries exist within our thinking and attitude, rather than within the technology itself. This is why it’s increasingly difficult for staff to determine what constitutes actions in the workplace and what is considered personal.

While Australia’s access to mobile and screen devices is on a steep climb*, Australians were already the most prolific users of social media in the world* and continue to be. Of the 800 million active Facebook users worldwide, 10 million are in Australia. Twitter and LinkedIn usage in Australia scales even higher with more than 2 million of the world’s 225 million Twitter users based New South Wales and Victoria; and more than 2 million of the world’s 135 million LinkedIn throughout Australia.  Over one third of online social networkers in Australia are aged 35-54 and professionally employed earning an average of AUD$70,000 annual salary [*Nielsen].

A digitally savvy lot then who tend to exercise common sense and do not make offensive or unprofessional comments on Twitter, Facebook or in blogs, right? Wrong.

Yarra Trams driver of 10 years, Andy Blume, maintained an active Twitter account and was an avid blogger until August last year, when the Herald Sun featured a story about twitpics of sleeping passengers, offensive commuter taunts and bragging photos of tram collisions, all shared by Blume using his smart phone while operating his daily tram route. Blume was let go and despite an appeal, the dismissal was upheld by Fair Work Australia and widely publicised in the news.

Fair Work also upheld the dismissal of Damien O’Keefe, employee of The Good Guys who posted hostile, anti-work comments on his Facebook page from his home computer about the company and its Operations Manager late last year. But here’s the common trap for young players: although O’Keefe’s Facebook page was subject to the highest privacy settings, his colleagues could read the comments and it wasn’t long before the Operations Manager was informed.

Contrarily, disgruntled hairdresser, Sally-Anne Fitzgerald won her unfair dismissal case and over $2000 compensation from her employer, Escape Hair Design, after her Facebook post…

“Xmas ‘bonus’ alongside a job warning, followed by no holiday pay!!! Whoooo!  The Hairdressing Industry rocks man!!! AWESOME!!!”

…got her fired. In this instance, Fair Work ruled the dismissal as harsh, unjust and unreasonable as the comment had not named or shamed the business and there was no evidence that clients of the company had read the comment.

So, with the use of social media both in and outside the workplace having the potential to impact business and employee reputations – what then, is the appropriate level of restriction for staff social media use? And through placing restrictions on staff, how do you ensure they don’t feel muzzled?

Like the liberal parents of whom I was raised by, I prefer to think of it not as “restriction” but as encouragement within clearly defined parameters.

What I mean is, HR Managers and employers – do not wait for a journalist to contact you or run a story about your employee before taking action. Take the steps now to protect your workforce and business reputation and create clear guidelines for social media use sooner rather than later.

Define what constitutes work-related content and what counts as a social media or publishing platform in the public domain. Then train all employees and their managers to ensure awareness and understanding of the policy and disciplinary implications – and more importantly, what to do and what not to do with social media.

Making an assumption that social media use doesn’t require a workplace policy for you or your workforce is a mistake. Aren’t you reading this on a screen?

Like this? Read more on social media policy in our series:

Your guide to social media policy – Part II (How to write your policy)

Your guide to social media policy – Part III (How to implement your policy)