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« Digital Era Employment Practices Under Fire – Again! | Main | S.M.A.R.T. News: Videos on Social Media’s Role in Workplace Communications »

February 24, 2011


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Tom Buchanan

I found this to be an outstanding and useful article. It provided a company like mine an opportunity to increase our awareness of the points you have raised and helps to keep us a step ahead of our clients.

My area of concentration with social media is the small business, typically those under 25 employees. My company provides, among other things, consultation for digital-era strategies with a primary emphasis in e-marketing.

In a nutshell, the problem for the small business is that social media is difficult, if not impossible, to cost justify, and frankly, I have yet to be convinced that there is a cost/benefit relationship. Indeed, I would suggest that only the most market savvy small businesses are engaged with social media in a meaningful way. It could be several more years before a typical small business uses social media for anything beyond dabbling.

Thus, in my opinion, the legal nuances of social media policy are primarily useful for those organizations having already determined the efficacy of social media. However, the trouble is that many small businesses, including my own, will stumble into social media without having a social media policy and this could have damaging effects for the business owner as well as the employees.


A great resource for social media in the enterprise, thanks for setting this up guys

Warren Levy

I'm writing about the case of the teacher's blog, which is a local story for me so I've been following it. First, let me thank you for all the thoughtful work you're contributing.

I'd like to suggest that the teacher's blog case isn't really about social media. That just happens to be the specific channel she had been using. Nor, as some have suggested, is this about free speech. As an individual, the teacher was free to express her opinions whatever they are and wherever she wanted. However, the school board and community have legitimate expectations that professionals do not conduct themselves in ways that undermine their credibility or effectiveness in their roles. In my view, the teacher could have expressed the same points of view in language that was more considered and professional, and appropriate. Instead, she chose language that was unprofessional and intemperate, undermining her point of view.

Social media issues do attach to the teacher's protestation that she had written the blog to communicate with friends, and did not have any expectation of it becoming public. Professionals not only need to be conscious of the broader implications of what they say and how they say it, but also smart about which channels they use if they have expectations of genuine privacy.

I don't know about the specific legal issues involved, but I think the School Board has cause to dismiss the teacher, not for violation of social media rules, but for poor judgment that undermines her ability to function in her role. That's a shame because the community consensus seemed to be that her underlying point of view was well worth extensive public discussion.

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

Here are a couple of great videos that demonstrate excellent options for communicating policy content to employees:

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

Tom and Warren - thank you for your thoughtful comments.

Tom - as I note in the intro, any organization that employees people needs to have a social media policy, even if they're not actively leveraging it. I agree that social media doesn't make sense as part of the marketing strategy for all organizations; however, I think it can benefit virtually all of them from a business development perspective. Too many people underestimate the value of social media for listening, which is a great way to gather competitive intelligence and identify opportunities. I provide a model for how this can work in a white paper entitled "Trickle-Up Socialnomics: Leveraging Social Media in the BtoB Context," which can be leveraged via The ideas apply to organizations of all types, not just BtoB enterprises...

Warren - it will definitely be interesting to see how this case plays out. I suspect the school system didn't have a social media policy - and more importantly, hadn't updated their other policies to reflect new communication channels. If I'm right, the school board may not be able to take disciplinary action based on these "technicalities." That's one of the reasons I have written this post - to raise the issue that employers need to make sure their policies - as a whole - properly reflect Digital Era realities. Please keep me posted if you learn about the outcome of this case before I do.

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

Here's a link to a white paper from Manpower that provides more statistics on the existence of social media policies. The numbers are surprisingly low...


As Social Media & Marketing Coordinator: a new addition, with the subgeeks, llc ( network of web tech, marketing & design geeks & gurus, my responsibilities include researching and developing two separate but critical documents:

Our Social Media Policy & Guidelines, and...
Our Social Media Marketing (SMM) Strategy.

Being relatively new to this field, I have spent much of my lead time researching "Why Social Media (Marketing)?" across the web, and I have to my delight found some very convincing articles in favor of developing social media & internet usage policies/strategies for companies of any size or type.

The ultimate end-all-be-all reason which necessitates our compliance with this new trend is reiterated by Arnold Farlow, with his comment: "At this point with social media we get more buzz than a bang for our buck. However the future is going to be dominated by it."

Arnold has really hit the nail on the head. If you are interested in acquainting yourself intimately with a variety of arguments in favor of Social Media Policy & Marketing Strategy, then I encourage followers of this LinkedIn® Poll to refer to the following bundle of links for further information:

Personally, I have found these very pertinent and incisive arguments in favor of Social Media Policy & Strategy to be very, very helpful in my endeavors to develop such plans & strategies unique to my own company, as well as to the clients, partners, affiliates and supervisors I serve.

I am confident that each & all of the followers of this LinkedIn® Poll will find these articles of equally valuable aid, when attempting to clarify, gauge and aim your efforts to determine either A.) an inherent need for Social Media Policy & Strategy for your organization, and/or B.) the shape that such a Plan & Strategy should take, once your organization decides it is duly necessary to develop such policies for the obvious benefit of long-term ROI.

Moreover, I do so hope that these resources prove helpful in each of your endeavors to better structure and regulate Social Media & Internet Usage within your organizations. Thank you for your time, attention & consideration. Looking forward to hearing back from some of you, if any of you are so inclined! Cheers! Ciao & Namaste: I bow to the gods within you...

Respectfully submitted,
Social Media & Marketing Coordinator
subgeeks, llc: socially responsible computing
60 29th Street #123, San Francisco, CA 94110 USA
+1.800.792.6081 PH

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

In March or April there were some stories about the emails of faculty members in Michigan and Wisconsin being the subject of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and a few weeks later there was a discussion on GovLoop about how they might relate to to people's social media activity. FOIA is probably another legal consideration that should be considered from a risk management perspective.

I also recently had a conversation with an insurance broker about whether and how Digital Era risks were being addressed in Errors and Omissions, Directors and Officers, and similar insurance policies. Organizations may want to consider adding coverage to their existing insurance policies in addition to creating and/or revising their organizational policies.

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

A few additional comments after reviewing the final LI poll results:

1. There were 613 votes and 45 comments, but the results didn't change significantly from the preliminary results noted in the post.

2. There were some demographic differences in the results, but given that this wasn't a particularly scientific poll, I hesitate to put too much stock in them.

3. The comments were rich and generally reinforced well-known themes that run the gamut from organizations blocking access to public social media sites, organizations using social media without having a policy, individuals who believe "don't say anything stupid" is the only policy you need, and folks who advocate the value of training in ensuring people know what they can/can't say.

4. The comments also reveal a fair bit of confusion over the differences between social media strategies, plans, policies, and guidelines, which seems to have impacted the voting as well based on the commenters who shared their votes. In other words, some people may have claimed their organizations have a social media policy when in fact they don't.


Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

Here's a link to a related post I just published entitled, "Is the NLRB Turning up the “Social Media Heat” too High? No… Not Yet":

James Lewis

Dr Hunt -
I really like your White Paper and I find it interesting. Also, read the other paper "Putting Blogging in Perspective." Currently, I am employed by one of the trade associations in Washington DC in the Communications Department.

Two thoughts - if you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I'd be more than happy to assist and share my experience.

1. Because social media is so new and higher level employees are often confused or underwhelmed by its influence, is it not difficult to develop a strong social media policy when organizations often pass the duty of updating social media to interns or entry-level employees?

2. One area where I have significant experience is interacting with bloggers and developing earned media campaigns with them. Now days, everyone can be a reporters (there is an interesting anecdote of this is Friedman's The World Is Flat.) Political campaigns have run into this issue and some opposition specialist actively use this tactic to garner negative video/statements from opponents. I think it is necessary for organizations to include interaction with bloggers as part of their regular communications policy. Bloggers often have a strong or stronger following the newspapers.

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

It looks like the EEOC is starting to show some interest in regulating employers' use of social media sites. Check out this post:

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

Thanks for your thoughtful feedback, James. Here are my responses:

1. I think the key is to educate higher-level employees so they don't underestimate the risk, dismiss the importance of the activity, and/or abdicate their responsibility to help the organization manage its risk. To that end, most of my posts are targeted to organizational leaders who are social media rookies...

2. Organizations of all types should be regularly monitoring their brand. In addition to following bloggers, they should also be listening through other relevant channels such as Twitter and Facebook, particularly the activity of key influencers and thought leaders. As you note, though, it's not just important to listen, they must also be prepared to engage and respond (honestly and transparently).

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

Here's a new post that builds on the ideas here. It's about social media data "ownership" issues.

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

This post provides a link to a recent study about employers' approaches (or lack thereof) to managing social media use by employees:

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

I’ve just written a new blog post that provides more in-depth discussion of the practice of social screening, particularly by third-party firms. Here’s a link:

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

Based on the feedback I received on the "Social Screening Facts" post, especially from Mark Hammer in GovLoop, I was inspired to create a follow-up post. It's entitled "Social Recruiting 101: Overview and Recommendations. Here's a link:

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

This post talks about a harassment case in California originating with blog posts:

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

Here's a link to a story in NPR about a new Missouri law banning teachers from friending students on Facebook:

The piece did a terrible job of presenting this situation, including the quotes from the bill's own sponsor. There are many valid reasons for prohibiting teachers and students from becoming friends on Facebook, most of which are not adequately or accurately represented here. The prohibitions (by policy, not by law) should extend to other staff as well and should include friending subordinates and parents too. Simply put, the risks of crossing personal/professional boundaries far exceed the potential benefits.

A viable alternative that organizations of all types - especially those that interact with minor children - should start pursuing is the establishment of private social networks that allow for many of the benefits of a site like platform while minimizing the risks.

This is an important Digital Era issue that needs to be carefully considered and handled responsibly, but people can't engage in healthy debate of the issues unless they're well informed. I hope future stories will lay a better foundation for reasoned discussion.

I'm working on a post about private social networks that will include more details/guidance.

מכון שמיעה

The different interpretations lead to different views and create a lot of conflicting case law it will take some time to resolve, as the number of cases increases, and they make their way through the justice system.

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

I just published another blog post that consolidates resources addressing this and related issues:

Demanding Access to Individuals’ Social Networking Accounts: A Digital Era Worst Practice

Please help me educate people about this important Digital Era issue, which potentially affects all of us, by sharing the post. Thanks!

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