In this modern era social media use is a given. We can all like it or dislike it, acknowledge its benefits or be alarmed by its risks, but we cannot, and should not, ignore it as it is indeed a given.

Some statistics

According to information published, Facebook has more than a billion users; YouTube and Instagram each have more than 100 million users, and in Twitter there are about 350 million tweets each day. Israel is actually one of the heaviest users of social media around the world. Well, it is not a secret we all have our opinion and we all like to share our wisdom with the rest of the world.

The carrot or the stick?

Regarding your employees, rest assured that many of them are using social media, whether you like it or not.  By the way, note that there is actually a lot of business related advantages associated with social media use by workers and employees (otherwise, why am I writing this blog post?:)).

However, we should all be aware of the risks that may be involved with such use – such as: disclosure of confidential information and intellectual property of the employer or third parties, breach of privacy of employees, damaging the reputation of the employer, colleagues and even clients and competitors, harassment between employees, excessive use of social media during work time, publishing improper content, solicitation of employees through social media and breach of policies and procedures of the workplace.

I can add an additional impressive list to the risks described above. Moreover, in social media all these risks may have massive effects as they reach a large number of individuals within seconds and they are “there to stay”. As the saying goes “What happens in Vegas stays …..on Facebook”.

If you can’t beat them- tweet them!

So, should an employer block his employees’ access to social media sites when using office equipment? I think not. This will merely cause inconvenience, and still will not stop employees from using social media sites through their personal devices (such as personal cellular phones and tablets) that we all carry around. Not only that – this is a very conservative approach that may have a bad effect in the workplace.

Accordingly, I believe that the saying “If you can’t beat them – join them” is also true here, and the saying “just say “No” to ….” is not practical.  Although currently the majority of Israeli employers choose not to address this issue, and social media use is also hardly referred to in judgments of the labor courts in Israel – I do recommend addressing this issue by implementing a social media policy in the workplace, and the sooner the better. Implementing a policy, which will set the “rules of the game”  will definitely not cancel all risks involved, but playing a game whose rules are set is always easier (even if they are still open to interpretations or do not eliminate cheating).

Like the Jewish mother, I vote for EDUCATION !

EDUCATION is the key word, rather than PREVENTION, I set below for your convenience some suggested basic rules to be included in an employees’ social media use policy:

  • Be aware that what you think is private – may not always be so;
  • Where there is doubt – there should be no doubt. If you have doubt whether a planned post is advisable – please contact the company’s designated person;
  • You are responsible for your social media use;
  • Any posting should be polite and respectful towards your colleagues, clients etc;
  • Confidential information of the company and third parties should be preserved;
  • Company’s policies apply also in the social media sphere (like code of ethics and sexual harassment policy);
  • Limit your social media use during working hours to a reasonable use;
  • When you identify yourself as an employee of the company (for example, by registering the company as your workplace in Facebook) but are not authorized to act as its spokesman, be sure to state that it’s your private views you are expressing when discussing work related matters.

If you want to see a brilliant example for a social media policy – I urge you to watch this video published by the Department of Justice in the district of Victoria, Australia. When you see it, you will first laugh, then realize you need to start writing your own social media policy.

Last but not least, one cannot write about social media use in Israel without emphasizing that in Israel (unlike in the US, but similar to Europe) privacy is part of human dignity and is highly preserved. Any employer must remember this when addressing the very sensitive issue of social media use by employees. Accordingly, consultation with a local lawyer is advisable before taking any action against any employee’s use of social media.

So – what do you think? Is social media use by employees good or bad for the employer? Well, this is mainly a philosophical debate with no clear answer. As in each minute millions of posts, tweets and photos are published (including by your employees) I believe that a better use of our time is not to debate this, but rather educate ourselves and our employees about this use.