Lately, the news has been full of stories of professionals who have gotten into trouble or lost their jobs over their conduct on social media websites or blogs. The importance of professionalism in relation to social media has never been more apparent.
In February, Pennsylvania high school English teacher Natalie Munroe was suspended for posting vitriolic comments about her students on her personal blog (one example: “My students are out of control. They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying.”).
In April, Rhode Island emergency room physician Dr. Alexandra Thran was fired after she posted information about a patient on Facebook. She didn’t include the patient’s name, but she wrote enough that others were able to identify the patient from her post.
Just last week, Major League Baseball suspended and fined Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen after he commented on Twitter after being ejected from a game against the Yankees. Social media usage during games is forbidden, and Guillen is the first non-player to be held accountable for breaking that rule.
If unprofessional or inappropriate conduct is becoming increasingly common on social networks, what should organizations do to prevent it? Some believe that it is sufficient to rely on the common sense of their employees while maintaining an ongoing conversation about the importance of professionalism online. Others feel that these recent incidents prove that organizations can’t rely on common sense and must outline a clear, written policy for social media practices for employees.
Maria Ogneva, the Head of Community at Yammer, where she manages social media, community programs, internal education and engagement, advocates adopting a policy that educates, rather than threatens. The importance of professionalism in social media is paramount, but she believes that if you empower employees with the knowledge and resources they need, they will do the right thing without you having to take disciplinary action.
Ogneva writes in a Mashable article:
Educate. Most people fall down due to lack of education. One training session does not qualify as “education.” Commit to ongoing workshops and extend the conversation.
Extend the conversation. Make sure to create a space where people can find you and ask questions. It can be an internal blog, wiki, or an internal discussion group.
She also emphasizes that a policy should clearly state what the consequences are for not following the company rules and that major and minor infractions should have appropriate punishments.
Address problems proactively and gently. There will be things that go awry. It’s always better to politely point out the problematic tweet or blog comment in private. Most people want to do the right thing even if they make mistakes. Identify problem areas for your organization and create additional guidance around them.
Do you believe in developing a written social media policy for employees, or do you advocate a looser set of verbal guidelines? Share your point of view in the comments.
Check out our best practices for personal social media privacy.