Survey: Social media seeing more restrictions

More employers are restricting the use of social media and disciplining workers for violations, according to the results of a recent survey.

To find out what effect the social media explosion is having in the workplace and how companies are responding to its use, the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) in Minneapolis, MN, and its affiliated Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) fielded a survey among compliance and ethics professionals. This is the second survey SCCE and HCCA conducted on business' response to social media; the first survey was conducted in 2009. The research was designed to track how business has responded to the explosion of social media usage.

Healthcare providers, in particular, have been faced with difficult situations involving employees who posted patient information on social networking sites such as Facebook. (See "Facebook, other social sites continue posing problems" Healthcare Risk Management, October 2010, p. 10.) Hospitals and others in the healthcare field will always be at the front lines of this difficult issue because the requirements for privacy, and the implications for noncompliance, are so serious for them, says Roy Snell, CHC, CCEP, CEO of HCCA and a former Mayo Clinic administrator, consultant, and compliance officer.

Survey respondents reported that discipline of employees for their activities on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn is on the rise. According to the survey results, 42% of respondents reported that their organization has had to discipline an employee for behavior on these sites. That number is up significantly from 24% reported in 2009. "Yet, while headlines tell of employee firings for Facebook or Twitter rants or privacy violations, only about one-third of survey respondents report that their organizations have adopted policies specifically addressing the use of social media sites outside of work," Snell says.

The data reveals an increase from 10% in 2009 to 31% in 2011 of respondents who report that their employer has specific policies for social media use when away from work.

Companies often set site-specific policies for workplace access to social media, Snell says. Forty-seven percent reported that anyone may access LinkedIn, while lower numbers are reported for Facebook and Twitter — 32% and 31% respectively — and 35% of respondents companies allow no access to those two sites at work.

Snell points out that for-profit companies are more likely than non-profits to allow access to LinkedIn. Health care companies (40%) were far less likely to allow access than industry as a whole (77%).

In 2009, passive systems for monitoring social media policies — acting when appraised of an issue — was used by 32% of respondents. Yet, despite the exponential growth of social media use, the availability of monitoring solutions, and the increase in company policies that restrict its use, passive systems are now relied upon by 48% of respondents. "Business has clearly awoken to the risks and opportunities posed by social media. The increase in business usage of social media sites has been accompanied by increased efforts, at least on paper, to control employee activity inside and outside of work," Snell says. "However, reliance on informal monitoring methods and lack of clear owners of monitoring suggest that many companies have a long way to go in ensuring that their policies are followed. At the same time we must be very careful not to stifle one of the most effective business tools we have: social media."


For more information, contact:

Roy Snell, CHC, CCEP, CEO, Health Care Compliance Association, Minneapolis, MN. Telephone: (952) 933-8009. E-mail: Web: