One of the most controversial human resource issues revolves around the question of whether employers have the right to monitor their employees through social media. There are numerous benefits to monitoring employees through social media, and, while there are strong arguments for all sides, it is helpful to realize that the primary reason employers need to monitor is to protect their investment- the business. Many companies are wisely monitoring social media to save money, increase productivity, enhance their public image, reduce legal risks, engage employees, and communicate with consumers (Four Reasons, 2009, pp.1-11). Employers have a corporate and social responsibility to ensure that the operations of their business are ethical and secure, and since employees play a vital role in these areas, monitoring should not have negative implications, but instead be welcomed.
Time and money-saving technology
One of the major reasons that social media has a positive impact on how companies conduct business is because it is a time and money-saving technology that already exists and is widely accepted. One of the most valuable company assets is employee knowledge (Martin & Freeman, 2003, pp. 353-361). Traditional methods of capturing that knowledge are cumbersome and simply not adequate for the rapid growth that many companies are experiencing. Sharing and storing information electronically increases efficiency while reducing spending. These savings translate into higher profits, salaries and benefits for the entire company. Misuse or abuse of this technology leads to lost trade secrets, expensive litigation, or even dissolution of the company.
Protecting the corporate brand and image
Another reason for monitoring involves protecting the corporate brand and reputation. A positive public image is paramount to a company’s success. In the past, companies spent large percentages of their revenue for branding and advertising. Branding, product promotion, and generating customer loyalty are just some of the reasons, companies are utilizing social media sites. According to a survey by Madden and Smith (2010), “27% of employed internet users now work for an employer that has policies about how they present themselves online—such as what they can post on blogs and websites or what information they can share about themselves. That compares to 22% in 2006.”
Social media sites make it possible for employers to accomplish far greater results with far less cost. Employees that post potentially illegal or negative updates on social media sites can seriously damage their company’s reputation and image. Disclosure of protected information, harassment claims, tortious interference with contracts, and offending customer and clients are also possible activities to prevent (Martin &Freeman, 2003, pp. 353-361). Since findings by Kroll (2011) show that almost 60% of employees used their mobile phones more than once a day to access social media sites, trainings that inform employees of the potential, boundaries, benefits, and consequences of their use should be implemented.
Security and compliance
Security and compliance are obvious reasons for monitoring. Employees are often targets of unscrupulous methods of sabotage from competitors (“Four Reasons”, 2009, pp. 1-11). Viruses, scams, predatory practices are simply a few of the dangers social media poses. Employers should use social media to disseminate useful information to employees that assists them to avoid these pitfalls and to enhance other areas of their lives. Hiring an employee is a major investment of time, money, and other resources, and employers should personally know their workers and be willing to protect them as they would any investment. There are methods employers can use to create an environment in which workers are proud and loyal.
Because companies have a responsibility to their employees, monitoring should take place after three conditions are met. This ethical approach (Martin & Freeman, 2003, pp. 353-361) serves the purpose of involving employees in the process and generates loyalty and accountability. Each individual develops relationships with other workers and the community as they gain respect for the property of the company. Employers can engage employees by offering financial, relationship, educational, and health and wellness resources to assist in areas that may indirectly affect their performance at work.
Developing transparency and open communication
According to Martin and Freeman (2003), updating job descriptions is also a key to empowering and informing workers of exactly what the company expects of them. Monitoring serves as a benefit to the employee as well informing the employer of the needs of their workers.
It is necessary for companies to create interactive corporate social media policies that follow the business model and company culture, as well as considering issues such as productivity, security, liability, privacy, creation, social control, and ethics (Martin & Freeman, 2003, pp. 353-361). Companies have an obligation to be more transparent.
Clear communication about the company’s position on social media by updating job descriptions, and informing employees of their role in the workplace adds value to social media monitoring. Potential stakeholders need to be confident that the company is stable and well managed. It is only within the confines of a well-developed social media policy that companies should view employee monitoring of social media as a benefit and even a necessity.