Social media is a valuable marketing tool for small businesses.  No doubt about that.  And employees can be excellent brand cheerleaders via social media.  However, the misuse of social media by employees is infiltrating the workplace creating negative consequences for employers.  We’ve recently seen situations where employees have bad-mouthed their boss and/or the company they work for, sometimes resulting in termination.  Additionally, employers may be held liable for negative or untruthful comments employees post about a competitor or customer.

Now, there’s another concern of which you need to be aware. Cyber-bullying is on the rise and it’s causing serious problems for employers. According to a recent employee survey, over half of the respondents believe their company is responsible for the online behavior of their co-workers, and 25 percent say they aren’t protected from cyber-bullying within existing company policies.

What constitutes cyber-bullying?  Eighty percent of the survey respondents believe that posting unpleasant or defamatory remarks about a co-worker constitutes cyber-bullying.  Other employees noted romantic advances from colleagues or supervisors, negative comments about their work or appearance, and secretive discussions about their work performance all to be forms of cyber-bullying.

In addition to affecting company morale, cyber-bullying may also lead to workplace violence.  Fifty-one percent of the surveyed workers admit they would confront colleagues in person if they felt they were a victim of cyber-bullying and this may result in a heated exchange.  Furthermore, an employer could be found liable if the offending behavior rises to the level of harassment or discrimination as defined by federal and state laws. That’s particularly true if the employer was aware of the conduct and took no steps to remedy the situation.

While you can’t control everything your employees post in social media, as a small business owner you need to maintain a written social media policy.  Review the policy with your team so everyone is aware of what’s acceptable and what’s not.  Define the consequences for the inappropriate use of social media.  Most importantly, encourage employees to be very careful about what they post on social media platforms.  Bottom line:  If you don’t want to see it in the headlines of the New York Times, don’t post it.

 

Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.