Embarrassing photos were posted on your organization's Facebook page. Your agency's Twitter page featured a rant humiliating the head of your department. How did this happen? What could have been done to avoid it? If you are in charge of your organization's risk management, social media present ever-evolving challenges. Legal expert Charles Leitch addressed such challenges during his "Realistic Supervision of Technology and Social Media" presentation at the Public Risk Management Association's annual meeting.
Leitch said organizations must accept that employees use social media, so they must focus on promoting best practices that protect employees and the organization from embarrassment. Leitch outlined common social media issues that risk managers should consider addressing.
- Smartphone ownership. Providing a subsidy for employees who use a personal phone for work has become commonplace, but Leitch said the growth of social media makes that risky. Why? Say, a problem arises out of something posted on your organization's Twitter account. Does your organization have the right to search or seize an employee's phone to see whether he or she created the post? Leitch suggested owning and distributing work phones to eliminate the gray area of whether your organization has access to a device.
- Protecting relationships. Many workers opt to connect with clients, vendors and constituents via social media. Is that a good idea? In the public sector, such a move is rife with risk because even the strongest professional relationship can be damaged by social media missteps. Sometimes, a misstep isn't even the fault of an employee but rather a contact with whom he or she is "friends." Even within an organization, the practice of connecting via social media presents problems. Did that employee truly want to accept a friend request from his boss? Or did he accept it because declining would make things awkward around the office? Either way, the result is that the boss now has access to the employee's social media life — for better or worse.
- Proper training. Developing — and updating — social media guidelines can be a tall task for some organizations, but it is not enough. Employers have to regularly train employees on adherence to those guidelines. With the rapid evolution of social media, "regularly" might mean quarterly instead of annually. Otherwise, any employee in trouble because of social media can put up a defense by claiming ignorance.
Leitch also outlined basic concepts that risk managers should remember in dealing with social media.
- Forget a ban. Simply banning social media use at the office will not work because smartphones allow employees to use social media without your knowledge. It is better to encourage good social media habits, such as usage only during lunch or another official break in the workday.
- Understand the landscape. Remember that social media comprise more than Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Small social media forums can be as damaging, so be sure your social media guidelines account for all forums.
- Keep it simple. If your organization is only getting started with social media, keep it simple, Leitch said. Start with a website, and explore the use of Twitter for emergency notification.