Too Hot for Social? Defining Acceptable Online Behavior for Employees

Too Hot for Social? Defining Acceptable Online Behavior for Employees

By Tricia O'Connor

A recent poll conducted by our partner Social Intelligence reveals employers are most concerned about these aspects of employees’ online content: 

  • 65% Intolerance
  • 35% Sexually Explicit
  • 45% Potentially Violent
  • 35% Potentially Illegal
  • 8% Custom

But how do businesses define thresholds for what’s acceptable social media content and what’s not? Are there different standards for different types of platforms? And how has the recent rise of remote work impacted the online behaviors of candidates and employees?

This month, EBI’s Jennifer Gladstone is exploring how human resources professionals are responding to the pandemic with a 4-part roundtable series, ‘Helping your HR Staff Survive COVID-19’. In Thursday’s Part 4, you’ll hear from Bianca Lager, the President of Social Intelligence. The Santa Barbara-based Consumer Reporting Agency partners with EBI to legally screen job applicants’ social media accounts to help protect workplace culture and prevent harassment. Check out our COVID-19 Resources page for earlier installments of the series.

The combination of the coronavirus and widespread social unrest is creating an unprecedented and extraordinary environment for social media turbulence. Here’s some tips to help you safeguard your workplace.

The Current State of Social Media

When social media first entered the mainstream in the early 2000s, about 400 million people in the world had access to the internet. Today, Facebook alone has over 35% of the world’s population as active monthly users, logging about 2.7 billion users in the second quarter of 2020. As this pandemic has unfolded and the remote workforce grown, there have been dramatic spikes in social media activity with Instagram reporting its largest gain in users in May – an increase of almost 11 million more active users.

Coupled with sustained social justice protests, social media users – among them job applicants and employees – are responding in increasingly emotional ways. The implications for employers are noticeable.

In the months pre-COVID-19, Social Intelligence found about 1 in 15 people had some sort of red flagged online content. Its current numbers are about 1 in 9. Violent behavior results have also climbed. Pre-COVID-19, Social Intelligence reported about 1 in 60 people had posted something violent. Now it is finding 1 in 33.

“The categories we have seen climb are aggressive verbiage as well as a display/use of force or violence. It’s pretty eye opening and my conclusion is that social media is simply more emotional than ever,” says Lager.

Defining Acceptable Online Behavior

HR professionals are responsible for defining what’s considered acceptable social media behavior and implementing coaching or discipline when someone wanders outside of those parameters.  

A solid social media policy that outlines how employees should conduct themselves online is the foundation. A social media background check on applicants and employees through a partnership like EBI has with Social Intelligence will provide you real-time behavioral data to show you if they’re staying within the boundaries.

Ultimately, the goal is to protect your employee’s safety and your company’s brand. Anything that could be perceived as a threat to your organization and its reputation will likely get ‘flagged’. 

Generally, most companies are concerned about the same big, dangerous things. Here are some common items identified in social media policies:

1. Illegal activity
2. Violence
3. Racism
4. Bigotry
5. Discriminatory behavior
6. Sexually explicit content
7. Inappropriate pictures, videos, memes, etc.
8. Threatening or disparaging remarks (cyber-bullying)
9. References to or solicitation of illegal drugs
10. Any other conduct unbecoming in violation of policy (disparaging remarks against the company or sharing company/client info, which may also be illegal)

Reaching the Threshold

With so many different social media platforms out there, you may wonder if there are different standards for different platforms. For example, is content on TikTok – which is extremely popular with Gen Z and younger generations – viewed more narrowly than on Twitter – which is a hotbed for political activity? In most cases, the answer is no, companies do not put more value on one platform over the other. Content is king here, especially when it comes to violating a policy. It doesn’t matter where it happens, it’s simply the fact that it did happen.

So, how do HR professionals weigh an offensive post and decide how to react?

Here are some common questions they ask:

  • How does this behavior impact the workplace?
  • Can this content be displayed in the workplace?
  • Would our customers largely support this statement or content?
  • Does this support a safe work environment?
  • How closely does this content align with our company values?

Recently, diversity and inclusion leaders have been getting increasingly involved with HR in weighing social media behaviors and determining if content violates a social media policy. They are also partnering with HR to examine social media background checks. This is a trend that will likely continue to become routine in the workplace.

Get Social with EBI

The best online screening processes combine technology and human review. That’s what you get with a Social Intelligence report provided by EBI. Our reports are curated from a variety of social media accounts, dating websites, pictures, microblogs, forums, and online communities. Our comprehensive reports are Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) compliant and accurately match a candidate or employee to their digital activity. Best of all, they help you and your employees remain aligned with your existing social media policy. 

If you want more information on social media and employment in 2020, check out this webinar recording and slide deck we presented with Social Intelligence earlier this summer. If you’re ready for more details on how to vet candidates and employees with social media screening, one of our EBI experts would love to speak with you.

And remember to stop back on Thursday for Part 4 of HR Roundtable series.

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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