Monday, January 19, 2009

Drafting an appropriate social networking policy

According to a recent report published by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the percentage of adults who use social networking sights such as MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn has more than quadrupled in the past four years – from 8% in 2005 to 35% in 2008. By age, the stats break down as follows:

  • 18 – 24: 75%
  • 25 – 34: 57%
  • 35 – 44: 30%
  • 45 – 54: 19%
  • 55 – 64: 10%
  • 65 & over: 7%

For American businesses, these numbers mean that a large quantity of workers have profiles on any number of social networking sights (yours truly included). They also mean that if your internet or technology policy does not cover the appropriate use of social networking and blogging you are leaving yourself potentially exposed for abuse, embarrassment, and potential liability. 

Let me offer a few thoughts on putting together a policy to cover employees’ use of social networking.

  1. A blanket prohibition does not make sense. I am not a fan of draconian policies. They cause more harm than good. They are bad for morale, drive away quality employees, beg for violations, and hamstring employers into making personnel decision they might not otherwise want to make when the policy is violated. If the reality is that a large chunk of employees are social networking, employers should embrace this medium within reason.

  2. Employees need to understand that with the ability to use social networking comes responsibility. If a profile can link someone to their place of employment, the employee cannot post anything that could potentially embarrass or otherwise reflect poorly on his or her employer. This policy is one of common sense. Posting where you went to college is acceptable, posting pictures of yourself drunk while in college is not.

  3. Use while at work should be governed by a company’s general internet protocol. If a company permits limited personal use at work (which most should), then the same ability should be extended to employees’ social networking activities.

These types of policies are governed by one guiding principle – treat employees like adults and assume that they will return the favor until they prove otherwise.

[Hat tip: Delaware Employment Law Blog]