ALM Properties, Inc.
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Balancing Social Media Risk and Employee Policies
The results of a study released by Montieth & Co. in January indicated that as employees have become more connected through social networking, insider trading has become more socialized. According to the study, given their age (more than half of the 76 people charged with insider trading since August 2009 were between the ages of 31 and 40), these individuals grew up in their professional lives with social networking as a model for interacting with others, for creating bonds and exchanging information.
Understand employee audiences
The days of companies just having to be concerned about the online activities of employees who are sitting at desks with computer access are over. Today almost all employees, from the loading dock to the C-suite, have smartphones in their pocketsand therefore almost 24/7 access to social media platforms. When identifying risks and developing social media policies, companies must take this growing employee audience and the potential risks they pose into accountfrom explaining to a C-level executive why posting an update on their travel plans might lead to M&A rumors, to telling manufacturing employees why they should not post pictures of one another at work because a product or process may be in the background, and public distribution could give up valuable company intellectual property.
Identify social media restrictions
The seemingly simple process of determining social media restrictions for employees is actually a very complicated process, and can take up to a year. With employee access to company data and information increasingly overlapping with their personal technology use on a work or home computer, smartphone, or tablet, its become impossible to lock down internal systems and assume that this sensitive information cannot be made public through social media channels. In todays environment, each company must look at its individual business and risks to determine restrictions.
Discuss unfamiliar concepts in the policy
Since a social media policy will likely include concepts that employees are not familiar with, its important to not just include these concepts, but explain them as well. One of the most important concepts will likely be what it means to speak for the company. An organization does not want employees to make comments about the company without making it clear that they work there, to avoid the appearance that either the company or the employee is engaging in deception and concealing his or her true identity. However, the company also does not want an employee who is not authorized to speak on behalf of the company to do so. Its a delicate balance that employees must understand, and that must be explained within the policy.
Communicate and reinforce the policy
Like any subject that is not a critical part of an employees job, social media policy cannot just be taught once and then forgotten. A more effective method for not only training employees, but also demonstrating that they understand the policies, has been to share foundational knowledge with the team and then follow up with additional sessions. Social media is changing on a daily basis, so a fixed list of dos and donts will not be effective in ensuring employee compliance in the coming months and years. Instead, focus on the principles of social media, like how each post can exist on the Internet forever and reach broader audiences than an email ever could. Once employees understand the broad reach of the medium and the risks it poses, they are more likely to understand the overall policy guidelines and abide by them.