An employer’s guide to social media in the workplace
Social media is one of the most powerful tools for online communication today. As such, it’s used heavily by consumers and businesses alike. Since employees operate as both these agents, social media can lead to the crossing over of personal and professional lives. Whether they’re posting on behalf of your organisation or merely in association with it, employers should be mindful about how their reputation could be impacted.
Is there a solution? Yes, there are many things employers can do to manage the risks of social media in the workplace. Continue reading for our full guide.
Social media doesn’t just refer to the use of popular platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Rather, employers must be aware of any internet-based tools employees can use to interact with each other and those outside the company.
Social media has come to the forefront of internet use, with 4.8 billion active users as of April 2023. While this growth has only occurred over the last two decades, there are some older laws that influence how social media is used. The social media laws for employers to be aware of are:
- The Human Rights Act 1998 – specifically article 8, which states people have a ‘right to respect for their private and family life, home and correspondence’. Article 10 also gives the right to freedom of expression.
- The Data Protection Act 2018 and UK GDPR – which regulates businesses on how employee and applicant information is collected, handled, and used. This gives individuals the right to access their information and get compensation where necessary.
- The Malicious Communications Act 1998 – which prevents the sending of communications (including online messages or letters) that convey a threat, grossly offensive or indecent message, or false information, if the intention of the sender is to cause distress or anxiety to the reader or recipient.
- Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 – which provides that the use of public electronic communications equipment to send a message that is false, grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, will be punishable by either an imprisonment term not exceeding six months, or an unlimited fine, or both. It is also an offence to send a communication through a public network intended to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to the recipient.
- The Computer Misuse Act 1990 – which prevents the unauthorised access, modification and use of computer material, or the use of a computer to assist in a criminal offence.
Managing social media in the workplace
For employers, some degree social media management is important to protect their business. This is because social media use has the potential to damage a business’s reputation unless there are certain guidelines in place. One reason for this can be workers misusing official accounts. It’s therefore important to first make employees aware of the three main uses of social media:
- Personal – private life.
- Professional – use of social media to growth a network of contacts, increase brand visibility, and bring in new business.
- Official – communications using the brand’s name as a representative.
Although only a few employees might have access to a company’s official social media accounts, many people have a separate work email address. This should be used exclusively for business-related purposes, as the company name is associated with the inbox.
Risks of social media to employers
When employees make posts or comments they shouldn’t, the consequences can be dire. Staff that can’t use and manage their email inbox effectively can be a security risk, for example. Here are the other workplace issues social media can create:
- Bullying / cyberbullying
- Loss of brand identity across multiple channels
- A PR crisis
- Copyright infringement
One option for employers is to limit the time or scope of social media use at work. However, close monitoring of employee social media use has the potential to create problems for employers. If workers feel like they’re constantly being watched, this can cause trust in management to break down. Even if you explain the reasons behind your actions, it can still result in a loss of privacy.
Furthermore, as mentioned above, there are laws to protect employee freedoms online. Depending on how far an employer’s efforts to manage social media use go, it could be seen as infringing on employee rights. In this case, the employer is open to employment claims.
Workplace social media policy
Businesses of any size can benefit from having a social media policy in place. This creates a framework that can be used to inform procedure and protect the organisation’s reputation. It should provide information to employees on what’s considered acceptable online behaviour. Employers should use their social media policy to establish the disciplinary process, along with what actions will be taken.
A social media policy can also serve to protect employee wellbeing, which is an obligation all employers share. It does this by avoiding negative outcomes like workplace bullying and the sharing of personal information.
A stark difference between personal and professional social media use is the increased risk of copyright. As a result, many employees may not be aware of what to look out for. Employers should therefore provide education on the best copyright practices online. This includes checking information sources for reputability and crediting material sources.
Social media is a great way for businesses to interact with their audience. It can allow for natural connections that establish what the brand stands for. However, this can be undermined if employees aren’t aware of the company’s brand values when they’re posting online. A social media policy lets employees reference the business’s established content style and tone of voice.
It’s important for employers to be transparent. Social media guidelines make it clear to employees that you’re monitoring social media. This demonstrates your expectations, as well as your commitment to online safety.
Risks of information sharing
Place an emphasis on the risks of sharing confidential and proprietary information. This includes personal information relating to the employee themselves, along with anyone else in the workplace. Employees should be encouraged to consult a colleague before they post anything they’re unsure of.
Some employees may wish to remain absent from social media. Policies can account for this by requiring employees to ask permission before taking and sharing photos.
Employment lawyers for employers
If you’re unsure where to start when creating a workplace social media policy, book a free consultation with Employment Law Services. Members of our expert team will be happy to provide employment law advice for businesses. Contact us today.