Part 1 of 2
The increasing popularity of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook has undoubtedly heralded a sea change in how people interact with each other in their daily lives. It is now commonplace to share the minutiae of their existence with a variety of contacts across online communities, some of whom will be friends, but many may be no more than a name on a list. Whereas, prior to the advent of these sites, people may have discussed good or bad news over a phone call with a friend, frequently it seems that people now unthinkingly share every detail and opinion, however mundane, with a comparatively large group of people.

What are the risks?
Regardless of whether the online activity took place within or outwith working hours, employers must be aware of the potential impact of these issues in order to deal with it appropriately and to help minimise risk.

Damage to Reputation
Employees might post negative comments on social networking sites about their employer, colleagues, or their work, which can be potentially damaging to an organisation’s professional reputation. This applies equally to materials posted by employees such as photographs or videos.

The ease of access to online forums means that it can take just seconds to post a kneejerk reaction to a situation online. The immediate accessibility of these sites, combined with an element of naiveté on an employee’s part can lead to considerable damage to an employer’s reputation.

Confidential Information
Employees could, intentionally or inadvertently, disclose confidential information which can have ramifications for the employer. Flippant references to the daily running of the business, for example, to specific departments or procedures, can potentially leave the employer open to ‘corporate infiltration and security breaches’ which could have long-term effects on the business. This also applies to the storage of confidential information on websites such as LinkedIn, which are designed for making business contacts.

Wasting company time
Another associated and obvious risk of allowing access to social networking sites is their underlying addictive nature. If such websites are made readily available in working hours, this can lead to a marked decline in workplace productivity. Facebook is a prime example of a procrastination tool, and this can have a significant knock-on effect on profitability, etc.