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Human Resources Q&A: What I do on social media is not my employer’s business!

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this – from students, experienced professionals, non-management staff and, perhaps more troubling, senior management/leadership employees.

We've increasingly seen a number of employee/employer, social media related matters featured as leading stories on national newscasts; numerous articles have been featured in industry publications and most notably, precedent setting legal cases have caused employers to sit up and pay attention to what their employees are up to on social media sites. So, if you take a step back and consider the impact and influence that social media has had and continues to have on the way we receive and share information, the way we attract and connect with donors, and the way we fundraise and generate supporters, I suspect you will agree that what an employee does on social media, whether it’s on the employer’s time or not, most certainly should be your business as an employer.

And of course, this affects your role as an HR professional, on a few fronts.

First and foremost, and as a key ambassador for your organization, you have a responsibility (formally or otherwise), to protect its reputation. It’s likely that your organization has a set of values and/or guiding principles that articulate the beliefs and behaviours expected of staff, volunteers, and more often today these values are being extended to external stakeholders such as vendors, suppliers, and corporate and community partners. Sometimes, these values are visually depicted on the walls of an organization while other times they can be found within strategic plan documents. In any case, it will be critical for employees to be consciously aware thesee values and how they come to life through the work that you do.

You can bring these to life by integrating your values into each and every HR practice you have in place – in recruitment and selection, performance management, and the tone and content of your policies.

Secondly, and given the Human Rights Code and the broader scope of the Occupational Health & Safety Act that now includes workplace harassment, bullying-like behavior is no longer limited to that which happens in the physical workspace or at work-related events; it now takes into account acts of cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying can occur electronically by means of text messages, email messages, and through posts made to social media sites.

Regardless of whether you have employees affected by this behaviour (either by engaging in it or bearing the brunt of it), it is incumbent that social media policies be documented and disseminated to staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders.

Here are a few social media policy considerations to keep in mind:

1. Embrace social media

As mentioned in a previous article Is social media on your radar?, social media refers to interactions among people in which they create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. Leading voices in the social media space suggest that it’s here to stay. The digital generation (Generation Z is one name used for the cohort of people born after the millennial generation) is influencing even the way learning is happening, both in and outside of the classroom, and organizations within the nonprofit sector have realized the benefits of social media and are capitalizing on the speed at which fundraising transactions can occur. You may need to offer training to allay discomfort and uncertainty about social media amongst your staff.

2. Align your policy to the work of your organization

Many organizations are now integrating social media with their other marketing efforts, so simply banning access to these sites will be counter-productive. Social media sites do provide nonprofit organizations with cost effective options to extend their reach and to interact with donors, supporters and the community at large. Collaborate with your IT representative to identify and mitigate any risks, security or otherwise.

3. Build in clear processes

More and more, organizations incorporate social media into their awareness campaigns; with this in mind be deliberate with who has access to your social media accounts and what your naming conventions are so that there is no question that the organization owns the account, along with any ideas and/or followers generated. Who are the individuals that need to be the face of your organization? What are the key messages that need to be delivered? At what stage are posts escalated and to whom? Who will monitor the account and to what extent? How will you address concerns that arise? What existing policies will this new policy affect? (i.e. Privacy, Confidentiality, etc.)

As with any policy, and especially if you’re writing your first social media policy, it will likely evolve over time and with experience realized after an incident arises. You’ll need to build in a regular review schedule to ensure it stays relevant.

Creating a policy that’s grounded in your organization's values and that facilitates the organization’s mandate while maintaining its reputation will allow you to give guidance to your staff, volunteers and other stakeholders regarding your preferences around the acceptable use of social media in support of the organization's goals and objectives.

Are you making social media behaviour your business?

To submit a question for a future column please leave a comment below or contact No identifying information will appear in this column. For paid professional advice about an urgent or complex situation, contact Veronica directly.

V. Utton & Associates offers boutique-style human resource management services to small and mid-sized organizations with particular expertise in the non-profit sector. For a fresh "VU" on people practices contact us at

Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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This is indeed well in time and many organizations are still struggling to build a framework on their Social Media use and regulation. Your points taken up are well in context and if implemented will balance nuances of personal space and official use. Helpful !
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