Media agency ZenithOptimedia were in touch this week to tell us about this infographic drawn from a survey of social media in the workplace around the world. The survey finds that social media has become increasingly accepted as a vehicle for conducting business, but the ways in which workplaces deal with it are still in flux.
Around the world, social media usage raises difficult questions as to whether and how rules regarding workplace confidentiality, loyalty, privacy and monitoring apply to these forums, and, if so, how they are balanced against freedom of expression.
The report offers five recommendations on best practice:
- Get a social media policy and make sure you communicate it.
- Make sure you have a separate policy on misuse of confidential information by employees via social media.
- If you monitor staff make sure you have policies that comply with the law.
- Monitoring should go no further than necessary.
- Exercise extreme caution if relying on information from social media sites to make employment-related decisions.
While it is generally accepted that having policies on social media is a good thing, my problem with this report is that it doesn’t define ‘social media’. The only social media service mentioned by name in the report is Facebook which, while very popular, is only one kind of social media. While the infographic has statistics relating to LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube and Google+ there seems to be no recognition that social media encompasses an ever increasing number of tools such as Skype, Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, Scoop.it, Ning and Delicious, all of which offer ways of finding and sharing information to create personal knowledge networks. Integrated into the workplace and the workflow they can deliver huge productivity gains.
While it may be wise to advise ‘extreme caution’ in using information from, say, Facebook for employment related decisions, HR departments, we assume, have always been careful to check the provenance of information regardless of the medium through which it is obtained. Good old fashioned references, for example, have long been treated with caution.
The report includes an interesting and useful roundup of case law from around the world, including the case of an Apple employee who was dismissed for using Facebook to make derogatory comments about Apple products. An employment tribunal had to grapple with the balance between, on the one hand, the employee’s right to privacy and freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights and, on the other, the protection of business interests. The tribunal ruled that the employee could not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over comments made online because of the ease with which such comments could be forwarded to others outwith his control. The tribunal also felt that Apple’s restriction on freedom of expression was justified and proportionate in the context of protecting its reputation.
All of which reminds us that existing laws apply in the online world. Social media is really just the web and the web is here to stay. If people are to learn how to use web-based communication media within existing law and within existing terms of employment they have to be allowed and encouraged to use these media.
Focusing too much on Facebook may risk missing the big issue which is that improving digital literacy in the workplace will improve workforce competence in using the web for communicating, building networks and personal knowledge management.
What the report is really asking is whether businesses are allowing their staff to be effective communicators and learners and have they adapted their policies to reflect these new ways of working?