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Employers engage with social media, but struggle to keep up with the trends, according to DLA Piper

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DLA Piper's fourth report in the Shifting Landscapes series, which look at the online challenges to traditional business models, offers an in-depth study into the use of social media in the workplace.

>Knowing your tweet from your trend: keeping pace with social media in the workplace addresses the problems that employers face keeping up with social media and the procedures that can be put in to place to mitigate the potential risk of employees engaging with these online platforms.

More than three quarters (76%) of businesses that responded to the study have a corporate social media presence. Most are present on Facebook (86%), LinkedIn (78%) and Twitter (62%) and reasons for use are varied; brand awareness (80%), marketing (60%), recruitment (42%), employee communication (39%), employee engagement (37%) and team working (28%).

Employers actively encourage the use of social media for work related activities (65%), however 21% of employers have taken disciplinary proceedings because of information an employee has displayed on a social media site about another individual, and 31% because of information posted about their organisation.

Despite this only a small proportion (25%) of businesses had a stand-alone, dedicated social media policy, and less than half (43%) had a social media policy which existed alongside another, such as an IT or HR policy.

Additionally, 28% of employers do not have restrictive covenants in senior employees' contracts governing the post termination use of business contacts on social media sites and 34% of employers say they are exposed to risk because confidential information may be posted on social media sites.

Kate Hodgkiss, partner in DLA Piper's Employment practice and author of the report said: "The rise of social media in the early 2000s has more recently filtered through to the work environment and changed business attitudes to communication; with this new opportunity also comes new risk.

"Almost a third of our respondents have been forced to take action against employees because of information posted online about their organisation, and a fifth because of information posted about another individual. There is also widespread recognition that social media is not just a tool for marketing, but something that needs to be considered by all aspects of a business; from HR, to risk, to the upper echelons of corporate management.

"Our respondents recognised the benefits of social media to get their messages out to a wide audience, at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods and far more quickly. But businesses need to understand how to minimise the risks. The study highlights that many are failing to protect themselves against the legal ramifications, as social networking practices outpace business policies. The research highlights the growing need for a definitive social media policy which is regularly assessed and updated."