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Who is your staff friending?

Defining a social media policy is a difficult undertaking. It requires a balance of protecting your company’s privacy and restricting your employees’ online activities. When an employee friends a customer or vendor, a seemingly innocent post may result unintended consequences.

There are  a few guidelines that are easy for your staff to understand. These are items that employees do on a daily basis, so it is easy for them to translate into the on-line world including:

  • Do not to post as a spokesperson for the company unless you are assigned that role;
  • Do not post company proprietary information or future plans; and
  • Do not post items that would reflect badly on the company.

More difficult is how to handle the friending of customers and vendors by employees from their personal social media accounts. When this happens seemingly innocent posts can cause a business some hardship.

Take the following post from Facebook:

What a year 2013 is looking like…we are moving, our youngest son is engaged, our oldest son and his wife are having a baby and our nephew just got engaged. I guess we can call 2013 the year of exciting changes:-)

Certainly sounds like an exciting time and truly some events to share with a social network.

Now, look at this from a customer or vendor perspective. There is one phrase, “we are moving” that will catch your attention. Will this employee be moving locally? Will they be part of the company? If not, who will be the new point of contact?

In this case, the employee was in fact moving out of state and leaving their employment. Their manager was aware of this, but not yet ready to share it with their stakeholders as succession plans  and an internal announcement had not been made. However, because the employee had friended customers,  vendors, and co-workers all sorts of questions were raised;  relationship and management issues needed to reacted to instead of being handled in a planned manner.

Can this happen in other situations? Sure. Think about the following possible posts:

  • “Off to Europe for a six month assignment”;
  • “Working on a great project that will change the industry”; or
  • “Had to deal with irate customers today returning defective products”.

These may seem unusual, but think about the varying business maturity levels of your employees and how each may use social media.How will they handle the questions that will result from these posts? How will you?

To help avoid a situation like this, the introduction of you social medial policy should include training on the risks of friending customers and vendors. Providing examples for discussion of seemingly innocuous posts will leave a lasting impression on your team.