Social media: The tricky thing is the policy…

As more and more businesses reap the benefits of engaging with their customers through social media, so follows the rush to rein in how employees should behave in this arena – not only whilst at work, but in a social context too.

The Commonwealth Bank Australia (CBA) has been slammed this week for its social media policy.

The Union is unhappy that employees are requested to report any “inappropriate or disparaging remarks” on social media sites. As it points out in the article:

“A conversation about the colour of the tea cups at the workplace, who is winning the footy tipping competition, or what day of the week CBA employees are permitted to wear casual clothes are examples of conversations that would constitute a breach of the policy as it is currently worded.”

In addition, CBA employees work under award which means they’re actually legally bound to the policy, and that’s what sets it apart from some other similar policies at other organisations.

When I worked at the London Ambulance Service our social media policy existed primarily to ensure confidential patient information was not posted anywhere on the internet. It was a vital clause in the policy to avoid data breaches, families seeing in-depth details of an incident involving a loved one and (in extreme examples) any prejudice to a police investigation. The policy was instigated after an increase in staff blogs talking about their work for the Service, as well as several online discussion boards and a need to frame what was, and what wasn’t acceptable in these forums.

My two favourite (and very popular) blogs by our staff were The Paramedic’s Diary and NeeNaw (about the work of a 999 call-taker).

They’re both fascinating insights into what it’s like to work for an ambulance service and act as a research tool for wannabe paramedics/ calltakers – the recruitment of many a staff member owes credit to these blogs.

But even these blogs have not been without issue, and there were times when there was a fine line between telling an interesting and detailed recount of an incident and protecting the rights of the patient and the details about them that were being released. Thankfully, both employees worked closely with our communications department to the benefit of both parties: we got two great representatives for the organisation and lots of positive messaging; both of them got successful books deals.

Creating a social media policy is such a tricky area and balances the desire to protect the reputation of the organisation with ensuring a realistic and manageable policy is in place and of course allowing freedom of speech for employees.

And after all, whilst you might be able to get employees to commit to a policy, censoring the views of the general public about your company is a lot harder job.
For CBA, an attempt to protect their own reputation has backfired badly and ironically resulted in a lot of avoidable bad press. Staff talking about whether their teacups are blue or white are now the least of their worries.


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