Social Networking, Your Employees and Your Business   Leave a comment

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In February 2009, Facebook reached 175 million users, with the 30+ demographic being the fastest-growing user group. Membership rose by 25 million from just one month earlier, and is almost double what it was last summer. Businesses and individuals worldwide maintain profiles, with varying degrees of privacy, on Facebook, and other social networking sites such as Twitter, MySpace and Linkedin. Social networking provides you with impressive tools for communicating with, and marketing to, your business community, However, you must take action to ensure that your employees are conveying the desired positive image of your company through their individual social networking.

Social networking sites can publicly link an individual and a business, by allowing users to state the name of their employers – thus linking the online character of the employee to the persona of the business. Predictably, this has enormous risk potential for businesses. Employee profiles showing obscene, sexually oriented, or simply childish material reflect poorly your company. Even more damaging is the online activity of the disgruntled employee, who thinks nothing of posting derogatory remarks about your organization for all to see. Your employment policies should draw clear lines between acceptable and unacceptable use of social networking sites, and any agreements that you have with your employees (containing non-compete and non-disclosure provisions, for instance) should include covenants not to disparage your company online, both during and after the employment relationship.

The second issue raised by social networking is use (or misuse) of company time. Facebook has become renowned as a time-drain. Your employees should be aware of time limits placed on use of social networking sites at work, and this policy may also need to encapsulate the use of cell phones (where Facebook and Twitter may also be used).

Finally, social networking practices can be a disruptive force within your workplace. Employees may – unintentionally or thoughtlessly – use their profiles to harass one another, communicate offensive jokes, pictures, and political views, or to disclose private or embarrassing information about one another, giving rise to hard feelings and real consequences in the workplace. A well-written social networking policy can help to eliminate the potential for this damage.

A well-drafted social networking policy should inform employees that whether they network during or outside of working hours, or on or off company premises, their online profiles should be appropriately tailored to their audience and must comply with employment policies. A fine line must be walked between regulating online behavior, and respecting employees’ rights to privacy and expression under U.S. law. Therefore, your social networking policy should be prepared or reviewed by an employment lawyer.

By Eadaoin Waller, a senior associate in our Corporate Department

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Eadaoin Waller is a Georgia attorney, focusing her practice in corporate law matters. 

 Her firm, Andersen, Tate & Carr, P.C., works with all manner of clients in business and personal matters, providing “big firm” sophistication with suburban law firm attention and service.

Website: www.atclawfirm.com

Blog: www.andersentatecarr.wordpress.com

 Copyright © 2009 & 2010, Eadaoin Waller & Andersen, Tate & Carr, P.C.

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