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Data Privacy Day: Water Cooler Gossip Goes Viral

From a whisper to a shout. From an audience of a few to an audience of hundreds or thousands. Social networking has amplified the impact of everyone’s voice, and that includes your employees.

With National Data Privacy Day approaching on January 28, it’s a good time for you to review the dos and don’ts of social media with employees. Your guidelines should be helpful for employees both when they’re using corporate accounts to represent the company and when they’re using personal accounts to talk about work-related matters.

In today’s environment, the lines between public and private, and personal and professional are blurred. In online social networks, employees divulge their affiliation with companies in their personal profiles or share information about their workdays within their personal networks. What can be concerning for employers is when employees trash the company, their co-workers or their managers or share trade secrets that shouldn’t be common knowledge.
Many companies have official social media policies to address the issue. The goals of the policies are typically to establish guidelines for responsible social media use. The relaxed attitudes of social media users suggest that the policies are needed.

In a 2010 survey1, social media users were found to be generally complacent about protecting their privacy and security. About 40 percent claimed they didn’t bother taking any steps to protect their accounts. This tendency to be overly open as opposed to cautious on the Web can lead to trouble when data that should be kept private becomes widely available. It can also lead to termination.

Some companies have fired employees over negative Facebook posts criticizing the organization or an individual boss, with the terminations upheld. While this may seem extreme, it’s good to know how your company would respond in a similar situation. Be sure you have a documented policy on file to back up your actions.
Here are some dos and don’ts to think about for your social media policy:

  • Do outline expectations for those who post to corporate accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, regarding the type of content and language that is and isn’t acceptable to post. For example, unprofessional language and seemingly innocent jokes may offend your followers and damage your brand reputation.
  • Don’t overwhelm your followers with too many messages. Be respectful of their time and only post content worth their while.
  • Do state why the company is using social media, the goals you want to achieve and the kind of value you want to provide to those who follow you.
  • Do encourage employees to use good judgment on both corporate and personal accounts. Social media users should never assume their posts won’t reach beyond their intended audience and should assume they may have to face the consequences for what they write or post.
  • Do help employees understand the importance of managing the privacy settings on their accounts to protect their personal data from identity thieves.
  • Don’t assume that employees would never post confidential business information to the Internet. Social networks often lull users into a false sense of privacy, and it’s easy to forget that a post could quickly be reposted or captured in a screenshot and forwarded to a larger audience.
  • Don’t forget to outline what kind of actions the company will take against employees who don’t follow the official social media policy.

1Identity and Privacy in Social Media Study, Ponemon Institute (2010)


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