Social media – it’s good to ‘chat’, isn’t it?

October 27, 2014

Social media - it's good to chatThe effects of social media

Social media is used by billions of people every day for marketing, news and as a tool for business. Popular social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, give people a platform to say almost anything, with potential to reach a huge audience.

Why is social media an issue?

Social media is instantaneous publication. It is recordable and is increasing human rights arguments, such as respect for private and family life, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. It is worth remembering that certain communications posted on social media sites may constitute criminal offences, and new CPS Prosecution Guidelines on Social Media communications came into force on 20 June 2013.

Opportunities and risks

The opportunities created by social media are vast. There are marketing and advertising opportunities via increased website traffic and targeted campaigns. Social learning could lead to business promotion, for instance, YouTube webinars and professional discussion forums. It is also an opportunity for successful recruitment, for example, via LinkedIn and Tumblr.

However, it does come with risks, particularly to the employer. There can be a loss of workplace productivity, bullying and harassment claims, recruitment difficulties, as well as reputational damage to the business. Other significant risks include the disclosure of confidential information and inappropriate private behaviour.

Loss of productivity

A survey by Morse suggests that over 50 per cent of office workers use social networking sites for personal use during the working day, and admit wasting an average of 40 minutes a week. It is important to be clear on what is expected from employees who access the internet during the working day. It is also much more difficult to police the use of social media because many staff use their own personal smartphones and tablets to access the internet whilst at work. Guidance for staff should be offered through clear policies and procedures.

Bullying and harassment

Employers may be vicariously liable for any acts of discrimination, harassment or bullying which occur outside of the workplace but between employees. Employers need to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent cyber-bullying and should have robust equal opportunities, anti-harassment and grievance policies which strike a balance between the employer’s interests and an employee’s human rights.

Recruitment difficulties and reputational damage

Candidates can be rejected due to their online reputation. This is not unlawful unless it is on the grounds of age, sex, disability, race, marriage, gender reassignment, pregnancy, religion and belief or sexual orientation. Discrimination claims can arise even at the recruitment stage. If an employee criticises an employer on a social media site it could lead to that employee being dismissed.

Confidential information

It is a worry for employers that staff may post confidential information online, and we have, of course, seen sensitive company information posted on social networking sites. Employees should be made aware of who business contacts belong to and have appropriate restrictive covenants in contracts of employment. Staff should be particularly educated about the consequences of disclosing confidential information.

Top tips for employers

1. Limit the use of social media

  • Block access to social media sites on company computers.

2. Ensure you have a social media policy

  • 33 per cent of businesses have a social media policy which sets out how employees are to conduct themselves, both inside and outside of work, and details the consequences of breaching the policy.
  • Involving staff in the review of policies increases the likelihood that they will follow and respect the policy.

3. Train employees regularly

  • Offer regular training to staff to draw their attention to the effects of social media.
  • Explain that online conduct will not be treated any differently to conduct in the workplace.
  • Ensure they are aware of the consequences of being friends with a work colleague or customers, clients, patients etc. online.
  • Social media is a permanent record of the ‘conversation’ or ‘comment’
  • If you allow staff to have a Facebook page encourage, them not to identify their employer.
  • Remind them not to disclose confidential information, or use social media to harass colleagues.

4. Monitor behaviour

  • Having a policy doesn’t necessarily mean that staff understand what is expected of them and the consequences of breaching the policy.

5. Taking action

  • Ensure that whatever sanction is imposed is reasonable considering the action. A final written warning may be more appropriate than dismissal.

Social Media Trivia

  • The average user spends about 38 hours per month on Facebook.
  • The average age of Facebook users is 40. There are slightly more female than male Facebook users and 33 per cent are aged 44 to 45.
  • Facebook limits the number of friends a user may have to 5,000 but the average user has 139 friends.
  • Around 2 billion video items are watched each day on YouTube.
  • 90 per cent of UK businesses have internet access.
  • In 2011, 33 per cent of USA divorce proceedings featured the word ‘Facebook’.
  • The most followed person on Twitter is currently Katy Perry.
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Alison Lowerson

GP Specialist


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