From The Rock

There’s a ‘line’ for a reason…

By | February 26, 2014

Social media has created a conundrum for businesses. Where is the line when it comes to an employee’s professional life and personal life? How can an employer protect its image when an employee uses poor judgment on Facebook, Twitter or another social media venue? And, is it an employer’s right to dictate what an employee says – or posts – on a personal, yet public venue? 
Case in point – recently, NBC News featured a pretty darn bad military faux pas from some National Guardsmen at a fallen soldier’s funeral. Now, I’m not really sure why any of these individuals would think it OK to silly-pose with an empty, flag-draped casket then post to social media, but they did. And, one took it to an extreme in her post saying, “We put the FUN in funeral.” ::jaw dropped, shaking head in dismay:: 
This is a case that was clearly an “on the job” moment, and I’m sure correct funeral protocol and behavior was taught in training – but was etiquette for selfies and social media included? And, can you account for immaturity of these members of our military? Unfortunately, no. The National Guard took immediate action to reprimand those involved, which was the correct move to make.  
Regardless of what employers want when it comes to employees’ personal social media use or whether employees prefer employers to stay out of their business, there is a line that exists between appropriate and inappropriate commentary on social media. Where crossing that line becomes a problem for both parties is when it reflects poorly on the employer. Otherwise, most employees don’t run into issues for complaining about a bad day at work, a difficult client or an off-color remark. 
In today’s example, I have no explanation as to why a member of the U.S. military would ever feel she could freely dishonor a sacred, important duty like serving at the funeral of a fallen comrade. To quote Forest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.” But, companies should clearly outline policies regarding social media and train their employees – department by department, person by person – on what is considered unacceptable and what could negatively impact their careers. 
Here again, the question arises: where’s the privacy line? Well, maybe it’s not about the line. Maybe it’s about an employer taking that extra step to acknowledge, “We know you have a personal life outside of work, and that is fine. But as a general life rule, think twice or three times before you post because social media is never 100 percent private, and you cannot guarantee what will and won’t be shared beyond your circle of trust.” 
So, my quick tips to employers: 
  • Be clear about your expectations when it comes to social media use. Create a policy regarding both the company’s and its employees’ social media usage.
  • Specifically outline at what point or why an employee’s personal social media activity could be detrimental to his/her career and what action will be taken.
  • Acknowledge your dedication to maintaining privacy of your employees with regard to social media, and offer them guidance on what they should do with regard to social media as it relates to their employer. 
  • Consider a social media etiquette workshop that is applicable to both the professional and personal sides of life.
  • If deemed appropriate, require a statement to be included prominently in the “About” section of their social media pages. We suggest something to the effect of “Opinions are my own and do not reflect that of my employer.” 
  • Remind employees that if they want to ensure their social media use is mostly private, be sure to engage higher privacy settings and be cognizant of what is publicly posted. This doesn’t always mean that something they post on Facebook wouldn’t be shared with the employer by a “friend,” but it makes the probability less likely.
  • For businesses whose employees may frequently connect with clients, media or other external audiences through their personal outlets, remind them that they can set privacy settings to only show some posts to certain people and always be cognizant of their audience if they choose not to use these restrictions. 
What are your tips for employers when it comes to social media policies? featured a pretty darn bad military faux pas