Corporate crackdown looming for social media misconduct

Question:  If asked to list pressing ethical concerns, how high a priority would you assign to social media?  Follow-up question:  What specific social media practices would fall into the “slipshod” category?

Today most corporations, publishers included, probably are most worried about possible snafus stemming from public interaction.  But internal social media misconduct – especially devotion to personal agendas during work hours – clearly is destined for more attention.

An important study by the Ethics Resource Center based on input from 2089 respondents notes that social networking during the workday mostly involves personal affairs.  “Indeed,” says NRC, “33 percent of workers who connect for an hour or more during the workday say that none of their social networking time is related to work, and an additional 28 percent say only a small fraction (10 percent) involves work.  Overall, two out of five social networkers who connect at work spend an hour or more on social networking sites during the workday for personal use.”

This growing intrusion, notes NRC, raises a “threshold question about whether this diversion from the workday is, itself, a violation of company ethics rules and the employer’s obligation to provide a full day of work for a full day of pay.

“When workers spend one, two, three or more of the eight hours for which they are paid doing something besides work, it costs the company productivity and money; many companies consider such behavior time theft.”

How do such habits apply to how B2B staffs regulate their workday?  A past poll conducted by Editorial Solutions, Inc., a consultancy focusing on B2B performance issues, found that “workday” stretches well beyond a conventional eight-hour period.  And when ESI asked interviewees to identify major online editorial tasks, social media usually ran close behind the leading time-eater of e-newsletter editing/writing.

So how possible is it really to distinguish between on-the-job vs. personal time when news gathering via social media extends well into the evening?

Policies must be established

According to ERC, many companies “have been slow to establish policies on social networking. While almost three-quarters of companies (72%) have adopted codes of conduct, only 46 percent have established rules for internal use and less than one-third (32%) have rules relating to social networking.  When policies do exist, about one in ten say it is allowed so long as work gets done.”

B2B companies are in various stages of social media policy development.  Some have recently put such policies into place.  For others, evolving principles is a work in progress.  And for still others, ground rules have yet to be established.

Publishing company policies Ethics News Updates reviewed were thorough in most respects.  But none directly addressed expectations that working hour social media activity should exclude personal affairs networking.  Meanwhile for those readers in the throes of policy development, here are a few worthy passages to consider including:

  • “Although nothing in this policy prohibits or interferes with employees’ rights to communicate with work colleagues about terms and conditions of employment, social media accounts should not be used to comment inappropriately on the work of others or about the company.”
  • “Do not engage in conduct, whether in the social media environment or otherwise, that adversely affects your job performance, the job performance of your fellow employees, or the interests of our customers.”
  • “Ultimately you are solely responsible for what you post online.  Inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated and may subject you to disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
  • “If a staff person is posting on social media on behalf of the company, that person must have the authorization to do so.  Editorial folks who are using social media for advancement of their personal brand do not need that sort of permission.”

In its executive summary of survey results, ERC recommends that employers “invite social networkers to help shape social networking policy.”  Will you be ready to participate if and when your turn at bat arrives?

(Editor’s note:  Reactions to this article will be included in an upcoming “Ethics Mailbag” summary.  Send comments to ethics@asbpe.org.)