Should company bosses monitor their employees' use of social media?

Ian Sullivan, CEO of Paperhat Consorcio, looks at whether CEOs should be concerned about how their employees are using social media.

The suspension of the Coventry Telegraph’s editor over his alleged misuse of Twitter this month is the latest in a series of social media related employee scandals that have made headlines this year.

Such incidents are helping to raise awareness of the potential pitfalls of employee social media use and I am now regularly approached by CEOs and HR managers who ask whether there is anything they should be doing about it. The truth is: yes.

Whilst allowing employees to use social media does have advantages, the informal nature of many platforms sometimes leads employees to share things which they later come to regret. Posts on social media platforms, even private comments to friends and colleagues, can be forwarded to a potentially global audience. Employers’ therefore face the very real risk of their employees inadvertently posting remarks that cause far reaching damage to the company’s brand, reputation and even intellectual property.

In order to avoid such scenarios, it is important for companies to have policies in place which help to make clear that, whilst employees are free to have their own opinions, comments made on social media platforms should be within the law, should not be offensive and should not undermine the company or brand. Companies will usually have similar codes of conduct in place for traditional communication channels and a social media policy should simply tailor them for online situations.

Whilst these practices are sometimes criticised as being paternalistic, or even as restrictive of freedom of expression, the truth is social media policies are usually designed for the benefit of both the employer and the employee. They help to raise awareness of the security threat that social media represents and create a culture in which employees help to identify problems and advise colleagues on correct practice. For companies where reputation and brand are central to success the advantages of having social media policies in place are clearly manifold.

Most companies, however, are still not directly addressing social media governance. The results of the latest Financial Executive Research Foundation (FERF) social media survey revealed that 76% of the participating companies did not have a clearly defined social media policy in place. This is quite astonishing, especially when you consider the lengths that some of the largest financial institutions are going to in order to manage their reputation and brand in the social media space. Goldman Sachs, for example, not only has a policy in place, it also warns its employees that the use of Facebook may be logged and recorded.

Automated monitoring programmes, such as Social Sentry, are making it easier for companies to track employees’ activities in the social media space and the practice is likely to become increasingly common in the future as a result. In fact, the IT research company Gartner predicts that up to 60 percent of companies will have some form of employee monitoring in place by 2015. Whilst I am not, strictly speaking, an advocate for the practice, I recognise that there are circumstances in which it could be argued that tracking employees’ social media activity is important. In matters relating to national security, for instance, or when a company is handling price-sensitive and confidential information, it may be necessary to monitor employees’ use of social media to check for security breaches.

It would also be untrue to say that monitoring employees represents a seismic shift in corporate social media practice. Most large companies already track conversations relating to their brands in the social media space and employees are increasingly mindful of this fact when using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Nevertheless, companies that do decide to implement employee monitoring need to communicate this fact and it is important to establish clear boundaries around monitoring to prevent any abuses of privacy.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.