HRO Today

Socially Unacceptable

Five ways to avoid the potential risk caused by employee misuse of social media.

By Emily Snell

Every employee has done it: a quick post on Facebook during lunch or uploading a snap onto Instagram using the company computer. Yet that keystroke or mouse click is a hacker’s gateway to a treasure trove of personnel files, confidential information, and other sensitive materials.

Employees’ social media activity is creating considerable concern among HR professionals, according to a national survey conducted by InfoArmor. The survey, which was designed to uncover perceived risks of social media use, finds that 40 percent of HR professionals cite damage to their companies as their greatest fear of employee social media activity. Given the vast amount of information shared in social media, including email addresses, phone numbers, and even Social Security numbers, the fear is with good reason.

To combat this concern, many organizations have a social media policy, but how effective is that policy if it isn’t enforced? More than half (56 percent) of respondents indicate their company has a social media policy in place, yet seven in 10 respondents admit their policy is loosely monitored or based solely on trust. Only 16 percent of companies actively monitor to identify potentially damaging misuse of social media among employees.

Employers falsely believe that their employees’ social media use is not important enough to warrant enforcing policies. Yet, the companies that do monitor social media activity are finding information that is alarming enough to consider terminating employees. Of the companies that monitor social media, 42 percent have reprimanded employees and 25 percent have terminated employees because of inappropriate activities.

While educating employees about appropriate social media use is beneficial, organizations need to not only adopt strong social media policies, but also implement procedures to actively enforce the policies with clearly indicated consequences of inappropriate use. There are a host of other actionable steps HR managers can take to tackle risks posed by social media use:

  • Gain a thorough understanding of the risks and rewards of social media. HR managers have likely heard of Facebook, but what about Secret or Whisper? These emerging platforms focus on user anonymity. With a greater understanding of new and emerging trends, managers can adapt and tailor social policies and establish enforceable consequences. As social media evolves, so should a company’s social media policy.
  • Educate employees about the risks and dangers of
using social media in the workplace. Often, employees don’t realize the power of their individual actions. Social media facilitates communication, sharing, and idea development, as well as widening networks and bolstering corporate and personal reputations. But a company-based comment or post may open the door to data theft or potential legal ramifications. Education is power. Just as HR managers seek out opportunities for employees to enhance their job skills, enhancing their understanding of the impacts of social media is vital. 
• Put a companywide social media policy in place. Nearly half of employers do not have a policy in place. A
look on any social platform reveals a troubling trend: employees posting to the inadvertent detriment of the brand. While social media use is now akin to placing a personal phone call, acceptable use should be clearly outlined. This includes sharing the dos and don’ts of posting, defining consequences, and encouraging employees to freely seek out more information. The 
policy should also be actively and consistently enforced.
  • Communicate the company’s social media policy regularly, especially as it evolves. A social media policy shouldn’t be a paragraph in an employee orientation handbook. It should be something that’s frequently discussed among managers and employees.
  • Monitor employees’ social media activities. Monitoring is less about taking on the role of big brother and more about identifying potential dangers before they escalate into significant problems. An employee’s off- hand comment expressing frustration at a client or coworker can create tension and sometime irreparable damage resulting in legal action.

Just as social media platforms and usage is constantly evolving, so too must employers’ perceptions of the risks and dangers of inaction. A proactive approach is vital
to ensure both a company and employee’s safety in the digital world.

Emily Snell is senior vice president of employee benefits solutions at InfoArmor.


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