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Integrity Risk and the Use of Social Media in the Workplace

Social Media Policies should be developed to protect the Individual and Organization

On November 11, I blogged about “Social Media, Civility and Ethical Responsibilities of Millennials.” Today I look at social media practices and the integrity risk to organizations inherent in those practices.

Social media is an umbrella term used to describe social interaction through a variety of technology based tools, many of which are Internet based. This includes, but is not limited to, Internet forums, networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus, webcasts and blogs.

Social media exhibits unique characteristics when compared to ‘traditional media’ forms. Its speed and scope means that once content is published it is available instantaneously, to a potentially global audience.

Social media is usually interactive in a way that traditional media is not, which enables users to comment on and edit published material, making it difficult to control content. Social media blurs private/public boundaries when individuals’ personal information and opinions enter the public domain. The boundaries between personal and work life also become blurred as companies make use of social media for business purposes and employees access personal sites while at work. A DLA Piper survey found social media is used for personal and work related activities by 95% of employees.

In a survey of large companies, the Institute of Business Ethics found that 6 of 7 respondents identified integrity risk as the main ethical challenge with regard to social media. When an employee uses social media in an irresponsible way either on behalf of the company or through personal social media, it can undermine the company’s commitment to ethical practice and expose it to integrity risk

In today’s technologically-drive world it is virtually impossible to stop employees from using social media in the workplace. My suggestion is to establish guidelines founded on the basic premise of integrity, or principled behavior, and establish a monitoring system that includes sanctions for noncompliance.

I spend time in my ethics class discussing issues related to workplace ethics including the dangers of using social media as a tool to express one’s feelings about the organization or members of it, such as cyberbullying. I also have searched for a model social media policy to discuss with students. I recently came across the Social Media Policy at Best Buy and now use it as an example of sound social media policies.

First, Best Buy sets the tone by saying, “Be smart. Be respectful. Be human.” These are virtues we all can agree on and that have specific meaning to those in the workplace.

Here is the preamble to the Best Buy Social Media Policy.

“Guidelines for functioning in an electronic world are the same as the values, ethics and confidentiality policies employees are expected to live every day, whether you’re Tweeting, talking with customers or chatting over the neighbor’s fence. Remember, your responsibility to Best Buy doesn’t end when you are off the clock. For that reason, this policy applies to both company sponsored social media and personal use as it relates to Best Buy.”

This statement sets the tone that employees have obligations as representatives of the company in their personal activities especially when it relates to Best Buy. These days the line has become blurred between what is business and what is personal because of the widespread use of social media and other technologies in the workplace and for social communication.

I really like the guidelines provided by Best Buy for employees who use social media outside of the workplace. Here is a list of those responsibilities with explanations. 

  • Disclose your Affiliation: If you talk about work related matters that are within your area of job responsibility you must disclose your affiliation with Best Buy.
  • State That It’s YOUR Opinion: Unless authorized to speak on behalf of Best Buy, you must state that the views expressed are your own. Hourly employees should not speak on behalf of Best Buy when they are off the clock.
  • Protect Yourself: Be careful about what personal information you share online.
  • Act responsibly and ethically: When participating in online communities, do not misrepresent yourself. If you are not a vice president, don’t say you are.
  • Honor Our Differences: Live the values. Best Buy will not tolerate discrimination (including age, sex, race, color, creed, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, citizenship, disability, or marital status or any other legally recognized protected basis under federal, state, or local laws, regulations or ordinances).
  • Offers and Contests: Follow the normal legal review process. If you are in the store, offers must be approved through the retail marketing toolkit.

Best Buy employees are cautioned to avoid disclosure of certain issues because of their ethical obligations to Best Buy including:

  • The Numbers: Non-public financial or operational information. This includes strategies, forecasts and most anything with a dollar-figure attached to it. If it’s not already public information, it’s not your job to make it so.
  • Promotions: Internal communication regarding drive times, promotional activities or inventory allocations including: advance ads, drive time playbooks, holiday strategies and Retail Insider editions.
  • Personal Information: Never share personal information about our customers.
  • Legal Information: Do not share anything having to do with a legal issue, legal case, or attorneys without first checking with legal.
  • Anything that belongs to someone else: Let them post their own stuff; you stick to posting your own creations. This includes illegal music sharing, copyrighted publications, and all logos or other images that are trademarked by Best Buy.
  • Confidential Information: Do not publish, post, or release information that is considered confidential or top secret.

Best Buy provides some common sense values that guide actions and decisions when employees are uncertain how best to proceed.

“If you find yourself wondering if you can talk about something you learned at work -- don’t. Follow Best Buy’s policies and live the company’s values and philosophies. They’re there for a reason.”

Given the values and expectations for employee behavior, Best Buy also provides simple statements that serve as a warning about the potential effects to the employee and company of inappropriate use of social media including: getting fired; get Best Buy in legal trouble with customers or investors; and cost us the ability to get and keep customers

The Policy statements ends with the simple statement:  “Remember: protect the brand, protect yourself.

It has become increasingly important for organizations to develop a social media policy. As in many areas today, the rules have not caught up with the technology. The importance of an effective, social media policy based on the principle of integrity cannot be understated. Social media can be used as a tool for good or one that harms others. The social media policy should be linked to the organization’s own code of ethics and incorporate sound principles of behavior such as honesty, trustworthiness, respect, fair treatment, responsibility and accountability.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 3, 2014. Professor Mintz teaches in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at