Banning social media in the workplace is not an option for businesses, even if they are afraid of reputational damage and time wasting, according to experts in workplace and social media law.
Speaking yesterday (8 November) at a conference on drafting social media policy for the workplace, Vivienne Storey, the general manager of Sydney-based boutique firm BlandsLaw, said attempting to ban the use of social media in the workplace is useless, and businesses are better off accepting it and preparing accordingly.
"If you're scared about what people are going to say about you [on social media], they are going to say it anyway," she said. "It is better to engage in the discussion. Be involved ... Banning social media is not an option. Don't blame the tool."
BlandsLaw was holding the seminar for a variety of not-for-profit, government, media and pharmaceuticals companies with the aim of allowing them to draft an effective social media policy and allay some of their fears.
"People want to know how far they can expect to control an employee's behaviour out of hours. How far-reaching can a social media policy be in terms of personal social media use?" Storey told Lawyers Weekly.
"They are worried about reputational risk, and disclosure of confidential information and intellectual property. They are concerned about social media becoming an excessive distraction at work, resulting in loss of productivity. They want to know what to include in a social media policy and how to implement it."
Common sense does not have common features
One key mistake made by businesses when drafting social media policy, said Storey, is advising employees to simply use "common sense" when tweeting or posting comments on Facebook. But this, she said, is not sufficient to protect businesses from reputational damage, especially when "common sense" means such different things for different generations.
"A policy which asks for common sense is not good enough," she said. "What common sense is differs between the generations and the sexes. You can't define it."
Storey also said it is essential that employees are made aware of the very public nature of what they are doing when using social media, and fully understand the risks and responsibilities involved.
"A lot of people don't understand the public nature of social media," she said. "[It is] about as public as you can imagine. It's permanently public, and people don't get that."
Earlier this week, DLA Piper released the results of a survey that revealed close to two-thirds of internet users are clueless when it comes to their legal rights and responsibilities online.
According to the survey, 63 per cent of users have little or no awareness of their rights and responsibilities when posting comments on social media sites, and 52 per cent of Twitter users do not consider whether their tweet could be in breach of the law before they send it.
Storey said that ensuring employees are aware of the realities behind social media is one way to minimise risk.
"When you start to consider [how public it is], it might just influence what you're tweeting," she said.
Storey pointed to the approach of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Victoria as being an effective example of how employees can be educated about the potential ramifications of using social media, as well as their responsibilities in relation to what they say on such sites.
The DOJ produced a four-minute video, which it made public on YouTube, in order to bring awareness about social media into the workplace.
Storey said this is now an essential part of training in the workplace.
"You don't want to be unemployable in the future because of what you put out in public," she said.