Social Media and the Christmas Party

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The posted photo definitely showed his right hand had made some contact with her right breast. The reason why wasn’t quite so clear. Within 10 minutes, the picture of the two work colleagues had over 400 likes and had been shared by numerous Facebook users. This would be a corporate Christmas party social media posting that 28-year-old Blaire would never forget. The fallout would force him out of his job, cost him his marriage, and—unfairly—soil his professional reputation. It was unfair because a workplace investigation would later uncover that he was actually gently pushing back on 32-year-old Michelle’s sexual advances. The woman who, in good faith, took the photo and sent it to Michelle (who then posted it with vexatious intent) as a reminder of a funny night would later comment, “If only I knew what I was starting.” The organisation’s CEO would later tell an independent investigator that he regretted that “staff had not been adequately trained in relation to the company’s expectations on social media use.”

An organisation has a right to set and act upon its expectations about social media postings from staff functions. The same old rules apply – there must be a social media policy and adequate training before it can be enforced. Training is most often the weakness. According to my colleague and iHR Workplace Relations Director, John Boardman, interactive training that allows employees to explore the issues and provides a post-training assessment of their understanding is absolutely critical.

It’s interesting that John qualifies his comments by suggesting that courts and tribunals across the world have not always tested key elements found in social media policies. What this implies is that global policies are more or less enforceable, depending upon in which region you find yourself. It also suggests that social media control in workplaces across the world is to a great extent a “work in progress”. However, this does not stop an organisation from setting and communicating its expectations.

I must admit, the older I get the less time I have with the fear mongering of compliance gurus. I definitely understand the young breed of entrepreneurs. I recently wrote that young entrepreneurs are creating more organic, fun workplaces, as opposed to the compliance-oriented, highly-regulated environments which have often, but not always, destroyed workplace humanity and creativity.

I love the beneficial side of social media. Social media makes for easy access to friends — today’s friends and those of the past. The sharing of lives and opinions tend to spiral into dimensions I would never have known about if I didn’t use social media. On social media, I have seen snippets of love, violence, humour, hurt, pathos, depravity, radical opinion, and innuendo I never thought possible.

But social media has also revealed to me the gossamer line between the truth and anything but the truth. And it’s for that reason alone that organisations need a clear social media policy, constant training and a zero-tolerance policy for subsequent irresponsible social media use. Currently, social media is one of the biggest risks to organisational and personal brands.

A few weeks prior to your organisation’s Christmas party is a very good time to remind your people of what is expected at, and after, the Christmas function in regard to posting party photos and comments. Some may want to ban postings entirely, while others may wish to be prescriptive about what can and cannot be posted. Others still may want to specify the process people must pass before posting. Whatever the case, you need to communicate your expectations. Otherwise, essentially any breach of your policy will be difficult to enforce.

Organisations should remember that the policy is not only there to protect the organisation. There may be very good reasons why an individual does not want their after hours photos on a social media platform, for example, a victim of abuse who is under the protection of a court intervention order. Perhaps this is a good reason alone to have a “no posts” policy.

Of course, well-managed and choreographed photographs and comments from events that are made public by consenting individuals are absolutely permissible. Consenting means “at the time,” not two years after someone has signed an agreement to publicly release information. People’s life circumstances do change.

The take-home point is this: arbitrary and uncontrolled use of the social media space, which may bring a little more Christmas cheer has the potential to create a far less happy new year! Be smart, think ahead, and ensure your staff stay up-to-date with a thorough social media training program.

You may request trial user access to World Learning Hub’s new social media digital training here.

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