[originally posted on 15 Sep 2010]

[updated on 9 Oct 2012]

Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, IMs, eJournals.  All these forms of social media have become more and more pervasive as the price of being connected falls and people become more technology savvy.  The introducion of smartphones, netbooks, and ultra portable laptops now mean that people can stay connected, share photos, keep track of friends, upload blogs etc  24×7 wherever they may be.

Some of these tools actually help make running a business easier and cheaper.  Emails, IMs and Internet Phone Services have changed the way people communicate.  Improved connectivity has made it affordable to have long conversations and even video conferences with colleagues, suppliers, partners, and customers around the world.  Got a new message or product to share?  Have an announcement to make?  New media channels like Twitter and product blogs spread news much faster and wider than via traditional dead-tree methods – and more cheaply too.

All fine and well.  But what do you do with social media in the office? 


A senior level manager had her employment contract terminated after she posted offensive comments on her facebook site.  Although she immediately apologised, the site had gone viral and damage had been done.

A company’s facebook page was pulled off the internet after it posted an offensive comment regarding divers in response to the withdrawal of sharks fin from a local supermarket.

Do you know if your employee who seems so engrossed at the computer is actually working or texting friends – or even worse – playing scrabble on facebook?  What do you do when you realize that your staff have been writing about how they hate the workplace on their personal blogs that, incidentally seems to be read by hundreds of their friends?  What can you do if pictures of an embarrassing offfice party started turning up on facebook tagged with your Company name?

Many Companies do not have any coherent policy on the use of social media.  It is often a tussle between the IT and HR departments as to whose baby it is, and who should govern its use.  In the large part, the issue remains unsolved and ignored – until something happens.

So what can be done about it?  Some organizations take a draconian approach by banning access to social networking sites at work.  This not only blocks end users from these applications, but also negates the productivity and cost-savings from useful applications such as internet telephony and instant messaging.  This approach however is not water-tight, as people will find ways and means to circumvent the controls – using thrid party sites, mobile devices, and personal mobile internet services.  It not only requires a significant amount of resource to monitor, but also creates a degree of unhappiness among staff who frequently (and quite rightly too) feel that the organization is backward, authoritarian, and over-reacting.

More enlightened companies embrace the pervasiveness of social media and social networking and leverage on it for work  – to improve information flows, encourage collaboration, develop communities of practice etc.  They do this by having a coherent policy about the use of social media and defining the OB markers clearly.  A coherent policy addresses three main issues:

  • when and how social networking can be used;
  • what data or information can be delivered on social networking sites, whether as an individual or as a representative of the organization;
  • the protection of copyrights; and
  • the consequences of infringement.

In addressing when and how social networking can be used, the company defines what applications can be installed and accessed using company infrastructure, and what is acceptable use during working hours.  Most companies prohibit or severly limit bandwidth hogging applications like video streaming, and limit use of social networking to breaks and rest periods.

In addressing what information can be shared on social networking sites, the company should determine the limits that information can be posted – can the company name or clients name be mentioned? Should names of employees and their particulars be made available? Should office pictures be posted for netizens to view -and if so, what are the guidelines?  It is often difficult to find a balance between too much and too little, and the company should be wary of over-managing the issue.  Most companies provide broad guidelines, but safeguard interests by allowing for spot checks, random reviews of internet traffic, etc.

A coherent policy not only serves to educate your satff about the dos and donts of social networking, but also provides the company with the legal basis for action when required.

The Policy on Social Media need not be a long one.  A simple one will serve its purposes, and sure beats not having one at all.