Social Networks, Your Online Presence, and Your Employer

I was perusing Mashable the other day and came across Sharlyn Lauby’s advice about corporate social media policies. As someone who has a bit of input into that sort of policy at a large organization (135,000 employees strong), I’m more than a bit taken aback by Lauby’s advice, particularly the legal advice she solicits from attorney Eric Meyer:

1. Employers need to be upfront with employees that they
have no right to privacy with respect to social networking. “Employers
reserve the right to monitor employee use of social media regardless of
location (i.e. at work on a company computer or on personal time with a
home computer
).”

I’ve got to call bullshit here. I don’t think my employer (or any employer) has the right to monitor pretty much anything I do on my own personal time, including my online presence. But I suppose that’s not accurate enough – they can certainly monitor anything about my public or semi-public life, but I’d argue that they don’t have a right to hold it against me if it doesn’t affect my work performance.

Lawyers and HR folks like to over-analyze everything. Some form of social media policy is probably worthwhile, but letting your legal and HR department write it is a mistake – it inevitably will stifle the creativity of your employees and the company may look like an overbearing asshole. That’s because HR people want to sanitize everything and lawyers try to claim as many rights for their client as they can possibly imagine (see recent Facebook debacle). Both are too extreme. So, in that spirit, here are my proposals for some important points of a social media policy:

  1. Joining social networks and/or having a blog is an important and developing form of communication and society. It’s inevitable that you and other employees will intersect on social networks.
  2. If you talk about work, make sure it’s clear you’re not speaking for your employer. You have the right to your opinion, but you don’t have the right to publish confidential or private materials that are the property of your employer.
  3. Things you say on social networks, even (or maybe especially) personal things, may change your co-workers’ (including your boss’s) opinion of you. You’ll have to live with the consequences, so manage your online reputation just as you manage your real-life one.