The Top 5 Business Risks of Social Media

I’m a social media evangelist. You’ll usually find me advocating its use to and for everyone from business leaders to small business to HR professionals. But for all its benefits, social media is not completely without risk for the organisation. We’ve all heard the horror stories – in fact when I speak about it, I often share some of my favourites. So rather than another piece in praise of the virtues of social media, here are the top five social media risks for business…. and what you can do about them.

1. Confidentiality. All employees have an implied duty of confidentiality. It exists specifically in most standard contracts of employment too. Breaches via social media might be deliberate, they might be accidental – even the White House is apparently not immune to the accidental share. Passwords can be changed quickly though. Staff can mention clients who don’t want to be talked about. In any of these situations, disciplinary action may result. Preventing breaches is all about communication and training. Something I’ll be saying often in this blog post.

2. Bullying and harassment. Inappropriate comments, so-called ‘banter’, unwanted or inappropriate messages have been part of the workplace since, well, forever. But the difference when it takes place in the social world is its 24/7 possibility. Social media never sleeps. Often, the cases that find their way into the Employment Tribunal system involve bulling and harassment. Policies and training should make it very clear that social media activity ‘in the course of employment’ doesn’t just mean during the 9-5. In cyberspace, everything is transparent. Everything is relevant. Even on Facebook.

3. Inappropriate material. Or, as we like to say in many an HR policy, “bringing the company into disrepute”. Employees identifiable as working for their employer, posting dubious opinions, being discriminatory or even sharing pornographic images (and yes, I have dealt with this….). You can’t stop employees doing inappropriate things. If you could, HR would probably have much less to do. But you can have a clear, robust policy, and act accordingly.

4. Contacts. In the old days, sales people used to have contacts lists. Remember the desk bound Rolodex? The challenge back then was to stop anyone leaving business getting near the photocopier or the fax machine. Today, it is not quite as easy. You can incorporate terms into a contract about ownership of a social media account and its connections or go down the restrictive covenant route. I even know of someone who was required to delete their LinkedIn contacts one by one. I’d suggest this is largely futile. You can’t un-know someone – in real life or the social world. Better to make sure that that contact information is somewhere else like a CRM database than try to prevent the unpreventable.

5. Time wasting. It isn’t difficult to waste time on social media – we’ve all gone off down rabbit holes from time to time (cat videos anyone?). But that issue is much bigger than social media. Employees can waste time in all sorts of ways from the extended lunch break to simply wandering around the office. Monitoring social media usage is permissible – just make it clear that you are going to do it. But this isn’t really about social media. It’s about employee engagement. It’s no more or less a management problem than people taking too many cigarette breaks (something anyone who has their HR stripes has dealt with on numerous occasions). So if find your employees are using social media to excess, maybe don’t start by running a usage report and reaching for the “block” button, but by asking yourself why…

When it comes to addressing these risks, there are plenty of things you can do. Have, and communicate, an effective social media policy. Train your employees on using social media professionally and appropriately. Tell them what you consider acceptable, and what you do not. Make sure your company’s culture is the best it can be. The risks I’ve outlined above are very real – but they can be managed. That way, we can ensure that we reap the rewards of social media’s virtues too.

Of course, you could also attend one of my masterclasses on social media and employment law too. Self-promotion over. Kind of…!