Social Media and Human Resources: Policies, Blunders, and Avoiding Libel

11 Jan

Social Media and Human ResourcesThe anonymity of the internet, social media in particular, allows people to say nasty things about others, whether an organization or an individual. Before the web was around, when unfounded accusations or reputation-damaging criticisms of others were published it was known as libel. But these cases are rare when based on content published on the web.

David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School says that libel suits related to social media are rare because users can often fire off instant replies to nasty comments. The safety of web-based anonymity drives people to say or do things they otherwise might not.

Increasingly, this is a top concern among human resource professionals and workplace managers. Blog posts and social media comments are lasting and, even if summarily deleted, they can have a permanent ripple effect throughout the internet.

Accordingly, it’s a good idea to implement some sort of social media or web-based publishing policy for all employees. While they may choose to disregard such policies outside of the workplace, it’s important to convey the sincerity of libel on the social web and the impact such actions can have on professional and public relations.

Despite the urgency of these concerns, many companies still do not have a social media policy in place. Here are some tips for implementing and upholding a workplace social media policy.

1.) Outline acceptable content

Trumpeting sensitive corporate information, such as client data and insider information, would not be acceptable in a public setting, so it shouldn’t be online either. This may seem obvious, but the impression of privacy that social networks afford can easily muddle employees’ judgement. Of course, employees must be free to post content about anything in their personal lives. Recent regulatory judgments have already decreed such liberties.

Last year, the National Labor Relations Board released a report detailing the rulings on 14 cases involving the use of social media in the workplace. Labor and employment attorneys have further explained that, in general, employers cannot discipline workers who discuss workplace responsibilities and performance online, even if they swear, use sarcasm or hurl insults.

2.) Establish uniform privacy settings

Many people, especially those new to social networking, aren’t aware that they can manage public visibility of content. By simply educating employees on this publication control can alleviate some serious anxiety.

3.) Make clear there are repercussions for libelous content

Employees cannot be prohibited from using social media, but they should be aware, from the outset, that there will be repercussions for inappropriate content.

4.) Be respectful

Nobody wants to be treated like a child. Most employees fully understand the sincerity of content published on the web. They don’t want to sit through a dull, time-consuming meeting about social media etiquette and be told what to do.

Also, understand that just because you don’t like something, it doesn’t mean you can take action against it. For the most part, helping your employees understand your social media policy and responding to disparaging remarks in a professional manner is the best prevention and cure. This is not only a human resource imperative, but a marketing one as well, as customers will be more appreciative of brands that respond to criticism in a respectful way.

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