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Are you digitally savvy?

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The recent legal cases involving a juror contacting a defendant through Facebook and the News of the World telephone hacking debacle are just two examples of how the digital age is changing some of the very fundamentals of what is deemed to be reasonable, acceptable – and legal – behaviour.

Social media implications

The growth of social media as an employer branding and engagement tool has been exponential - but at the same time, ease of access via smartphones, ipads and other mobile devices and multiple platforms means that it is difficult to control the message. 

What this means for HR is that a whole new set of legal, moral and employer branding issues have to be addressed - issues that are now sitting at the very heart of  the HR department's remit. And while HR professionals cannot be expected to be lawyers or social media gurus - an understanding of the issues involved - and at least a rudimentary understanding of how social networking tools work is becoming ever more vital.

While it's important to recognise the many benefits of social media tools - employer branding, engagement and PR - it's also vital to take a risk based approach. Employers can be vicariously liable for their employees in the case for, for example, discriminatory or bullying comments made on social networking sites. So what should HR professionals be doing to ensure that they are ahead of the game?

Embrace social media

The first point to make is that it's no good ignoring it - social media channels are here to stay. And simply blocking the use of channels in the workplace is futile. Most employees will have smartphones from which they can access all the channels they need to. 

Educate others

Make sure that your employees are aware of the commercial risks to your organisation. In extreme cases, updating a LinkedIn status or checking in on FourSquare could potentially lead to a breach of confidentiality - a meeting with a potential acquisition target for example.

In the case of recruitment, if a line manager checks a potential employee’s online profile - and makes a judgement based on that profile, then potentially that could be viewed as discrimination.

Collaborate with IT

Work with your IT, marketing, legal and compliance functions to ensure a joined up approach and to assess potential risk.

Listen to what's being said

Social media gives you the opportunity to eavesdrop on that water cooler chat and therefore also gives you the ability to protect your employer brand online. You can find out if your employees are disgruntled - and if it’s all negative at least you have the chance to do something about it.

Monitor usage

Remember the Facebook Group that was set up called “I work at Argos and can’t wait to leave because it’s sh**?”  Monitor social networking sites for mentions of your brand.

Update your policies

Make sure your policies on issues such as disciplinary matters, equality, sickness absence and monitoring are all updated to take account of social networking sites. If an employee is constantly ringing in with a bad back but their online profile has photos of them playing ten pin bowling then you want to make sure that you can use it.

Keep abreast of digital innovation

Social media in the workplace is here to stay - and it will continue to evolve. Consequently, it's important that as an HR professional you stay abreast - and even ahead of the curve if you are to both leverage the value - and mitigate the risk. 

Harnessing the tools can have a massive impact on understanding how best to improve employee engagement, provide great platforms for collaboration and communication and facilitate innovative new ways of sourcing talent. Ignoring them could be disastrous for both morale and your employer brand.

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