Electronic communication technology and social networking sites have permanently changed the way parents, employees, children, and organizations interact with one another. Mediums like email, text messaging, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter give everyone an equal voice.
With appropriate care, this new voice can be used as an extraordinary marketing, fundraising, customer service and relationship building tool for non-profit, youth focused, and community based organizations. Unfortunately, the same features that make this technology useful, also make it potentially harmful.
Great care should be taken to protect the well-being of your organization’s reputation, customers, and staff. This Best Practices Guide for Electronic Communication and Social Media includes the opinions of West Bend’s loss control representatives. The primary goal of these recommendations is to prevent circumstances that may negatively impact an organization’s risk management goals. These recommendations, therefore, do not address marketing best practices, and in many instances may directly conflict with brand awareness and development.
When it comes to face-to-face communication, we act differently depending on whether we are with our family, friends, coworkers, or strangers. We control our privacy and how these people perceive us by making adjustments to our attitude, attire, diction, and message. This strategy has worked for thousands of years.
Unfortunately, many people continue to struggle with controlling their online and electronic communication in a similar manner. The following best practices address social media privacy concerns and maintaining a professional persona.
1. Recognize that Online Communication is Rarely 100% Private
People need to recognize that social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube want users to share as much information about themselves as possible. While most developed networking sites now offer privacy controls, the large majority of revenues for these sites is ultimately generated by content and information that is shared publicly by users.
By recognizing that these sites and services establish lax default privacy controls, users will be more apprehensive and take extra steps to control the content they share.
2. Never Discuss Sensitive Information Online
Because the privacy controls on social networking sites changes so frequently, and because they can often be difficult to understand and implement, employees should never discuss financial, legal, health, or other sensitive matters online.
3. Refrain From Discussing Claims Information
Do not respond publicly to questions or comments regarding possible matters of liability, injury, or property damage. Sharing private or inaccurate information can negatively impact your insurance carrier’s ability to protect you from frivolous claims.
Monitoring Employee Communication
A responsible organization will routinely monitor an employee’s email communication. Email monitoring can be a sensitive subject, but is absolutely necessary to ensure that the organization is:
- Maintaining a professional reputation and image;
- Maintaining employee productivity;
- Preventing employees from using organizational equipment for illicit activity;
- Preventing and discouraging sexual or other illegal workplace harassment;
- Preventing “cyberstalking” by employees;
- Preventing possible defamation liability;
- Preventing employee disclosure of trade secrets and other confidential information; and
- Avoiding copyright and other intellectual property infringement from employees illegally downloading software, etc.
Electronic Communication Policy
Before monitoring workplace email use, a thorough Electronic Communication Policy should be put in place. The Electronic Communication Policy should include expectations for use of electronic systems as well as a clear policy defining the organization’s right to monitor communication at any time.
The following is an example of effective language:
All [Name of Organization] communications systems, hardware, software, temporary/permanent files, and any related systems or devices used in the transmission, receipt, or storage of E-mail/Internet/Intranet information are [Name of Organization] property. [Name of Organization]retains the right to access information transmitted or stored on [Name of Organization] electronic communications systems with or without prior notice to employees. Employees should not have any expectation of privacy with respect to any use, professional or personal, of the [Name of Organization]’s electronic communications systems.
When instituting a new Electronic Communication Policy, your organization should clearly explain the policy in detail to all current employees. After instituting the policy, all future hires should be informed of the monitoring practices, and annual reminders should be sent to all employees explaining that the policy is in place.
Communication with Minors
Online communication presents a unique opportunity for organizations to stay connected with members on a more regular basis. Unfortunately, the likelihood of over-sharing photos, videos, stories, or conversations makes this communication incredibly risky.
1. No Private Communication
Under no circumstances should an employee engage in private communication with a minor. Private communication is defined as any communication that cannot be actively monitored by at least one other member of the organization.
Facebook messages, emails, and text messages are all considered private communication. If these forms of communication are absolutely necessary another organization employee should be CC-ed. Note that most text message technology does not allow for CC-ing other recipients.
2. Know Age Requirements on Popular Services
Employees should be aware of the minimum age requirements of popular online services. For example, a user must currently be at least 13 years old to sign up for a Facebook account. In that case, no communication should take place between an organization employee and a member under the age of 13, even if another employee or the child’s guardian is included in the message.
Access and Oversight
1. Limit Public Communication Rights
Management should clearly dictate which employees have permission to speak and interact publicly on behalf of the organization. This small group of employees should be monitored closely and should have a very clear understanding of the Electronic Communication Policy.
2. Managerial Access to Accounts and Monitoring
At least two organization managers should have administrator access to all social network and online communication accounts used for business purposes. This level of access ensures at least two people have the ability to monitor outgoing messages and make quick changes when necessary.
3. Removal of Access
Organizations should have the resources and training in place to quickly terminate employees’ access to social networking and online communication tools used for business purposes. For example, if an employee is terminated, the organization should take immediate action to ensure that that employee cannot engage in conversations or activities on behalf of the organization.
Organizations are strongly encouraged to train all employees on the nuances and etiquette of the most popular social networks and online communication tools.
Employees should understand:
- How to create a secure password
- How to privatize their profiles and accounts
- How to connect and disconnect with friends, fans, followers, etc.
- How a message will be viewed by the public
- Will a message appear to be from the organization? From an organization employee? From an individual?
- How to permanently delete messages, photos, videos, etc.
1. Always Refer to the Electronic Communications Policy
Management should regularly refer to and update the Electronic Communications Policy. All decisions regarding discipline of employee actions online should be clearly outlined in that policy.
New communication technology and features will become available as social networking sites and online services continue to grow and develop. If an employee’s actions online are detrimental to the organization’s image, mission, or objectives, consider updating the ECP before taking action.
2. Discuss Discipline Openly
Management should regularly remind employees of the policies and procedures in the Electronic Communication Policy. Employees must understand that their are real consequences associated with virtual communication.
3. Be Consistent
As is the case with all organizational policy infractions, always discipline employees consistently. Referring to the Electronics Communication Policy ensures that discipline is consistent, unbiased, and fair.
It is very likely (and encouraged) that some employees will be granted more public communication rights than others.