Local News

Social media could have consequences at work

Posted July 1, 2010 6:07 p.m. EDT
Updated July 1, 2010 7:06 p.m. EDT

— Social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace, to name a few – is merging lives online and off.

It can also be troublesome for companies and government agencies that don't want their names associated with some of the things their employees say or do online.

It's resulting in new policies on personal lives, as Troy LaPlante found out.

"I found out the hard way," said LaPlante, who's worked for the same company for 15 years. "It was not all that unpleasant. I did get a phone call from our human resources director."

An active political blogger, LaPlante was asked to take his company's name off his online profiles.

"We have this policy that you simply don't mention the company,” he said. “So I said, 'OK, is this being applied across the board?' They said, 'Everybody that comes to our attention, yes.'"

More and more companies are designing specific social media policies for their employees. Punishment can vary from simply asking an employee to remove online information to termination.

"If you don't have an explicit written social media policy for your company, then you have a defacto policy that says do whatever you want," said Dave Thomas, the social media director for international software company SAS. "You need to have something in writing that employees can refer to that explains the do's and the don'ts."

Because social media has become an integral part of doing business, Thomas says banning it is not the answer.

"It's much better to help educate employees about effective ways of communicating and how to represent the (company) brand," he said.

It's not just the private sector dealing with the social media revolution. Government agencies are also looking at online conduct.

In 2007, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol discovered that a trooper posted online photos of himself drinking alcohol with captions about getting drunk.

Trooper Brian Maynard says the situation prompted the Highway Patrol to take a closer look at what its employees post online.

"The Highway Patrol doesn't have a policy, per se, on what we can and can't do, but they expect a high degree of professionalism," Maynard said.

"You need to be able to trust your employees to use good judgment," Thomas said. "Employees have to also understand that there is really no way anymore to separate your personal life and your professional life online."

LaPlante did remove his company's name from his online profiles.

But as the lines between personal life and work life blur, it might become even harder for companies to manage what employees say online.

"It's impossible to police everybody's activities," Thomas said.