Study: Social media policies lacking

Many Canadian companies do not have adequate guidelines in place for use of Facebook and other applications, according to a new study.

Most Canadian employers are lacking an effective policy to deal with the use of social networking technologies in their workplaces, potentially putting their brands and reputations at risk, according to a new report.

The Ryerson University study, titled “The Next Digital Divide: Online Social Network Privacy,” interviewed 16 private and public senior executives, and found that none had a policy specifically related to online social networks “unless they had experienced a related incident,” said report author professor Avner Levin.

Examples of such incidents could include an worker identifying himself as an employee of a company on his Facebook or MySpace page, while also including personal messages or images that reflect poorly on the organization.

Another commonly occurring incident is the overuse of social networking software on company time, thus affecting productivity levels.

Companies that have yet to experience any fallout from a lack of employee guidelines tend to believe their existing policies not specific to social networking will suffice, Levin said.

“[Those] who had not been through an incident [often] have just a general policy about how it is acceptable to use things like computers. They later found out that these don’t really help [them] with these new issues.”

Employers that do have a policy in place also have to ensure that workers know what it is, Levin added. Utilizing what he calls a “click-on approach,” where an employee, before they start their work in morning, has to click on and acknowledge a number of policies, is ineffective in getting the message across.

A better approach is to find a time to talk about this at “a very local level,” such as at the branch level of a retail operation.

“The problem is that you’re competing against time that they need for a variety of other things, like the business, and these issues tend to lose out ? until a crisis happens.”

Effective policies do not include an overload of details, but succeed in giving the employee a clear idea of what the company is trying to avoid, such as any activity that could result in damage to the firm’s brand or reputation.

Companies that are using social networking applications in their operation, either as an internal communications tool or as a means to communicate with customers, tend to be more adept at managing employees’ use of it, Levin added.