Thursday, August 7, 2008

When employees are talking about you online

Chances are most of your employees are members of popular social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or LinkedIn. They’re publishing and commenting on blogs, and writing reviews on their favorite products.

Employees’ online behavior can pose a serious threat to business. Take the example of the Home Interiors & Gifts employee who spilled the beans about a major pending transaction in a casual email to a friend. The employee meant no harm by sharing the news, but executives were furious.

Earlier this year, CNN caused an uproar after firing Chez Pazienza for his blogging without having a policy regarding “personal writings online” in place. Since then, CNN has written a policy which Pazienza was happy to blog about.

While you may have some sense of control over what employees say about the company over instant messages in the office, how do you guide what employees are saying about the company on their own time, outside of work?

When speaking online as an employee it’s important to have a clear set of rules that everyone in the organization can follow, according to Denise Shiffman at Engage Daily. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but companies should train employees on how to act responsibly when talking about their employer online.

Take a look at how the BBC, Sun Microsystems and IBM have put their social media guidelines into writing. After drafting your own policy, Schiffman advises running them through the legal department before passing the document out to employees.

Here are some online behavior guidelines Shiffman would include (read the full list):
  • Use your real name and identify the company you work for.
  • Everyone speaks for themselves, not “on behalf” of the company. Only designated spokespeople speak for the company.
  • Protect confidential and financial company information.
  • Follow the same rules you would if speaking inside of the office.

Writing policies on employees’ actions outside of the office can be a bumpy road to travel. As always, seek out legal advice before publishing any guidelines on employee online behavior outside of work.

Do you think it’s right to have guidelines on employee online behavior while on their own time? What problems have you come across in writing your own company policy?

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