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Social media policies vary around the world, but they tend to have a few things in common: Most permit some form of monitoring what employees do on social media sites and balance business interests against an employee’s right to privacy. Some also include data protection considerations.

This is according to a new study, Social Media in the Workplace Around the World 3.0, by international labor and employment law firm Proskauer.

The study states, that although nearly 90 percent of companies use social media for business purposes and nearly 80 have social networking policies, some 70 percent of respondents report having to take disciplinary action against employees who misuse social sites.

Get a Social Media Policy

Proskauer surveyed more than 110 businesses in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Among its other discoveries:

  •          Nearly 50 percent of businesses have updated their policies in the last year.

“In addition to implementing policies, businesses are now taking precautions to protect against specific risks associated with misuse of social media,” the study stated.

Those risks include:

  •         Misuse of confidential information (80 percent).
  •         Misrepresenting the views of the business (71 percent).
  •         Inappropriate nonbusiness use (67 percent).
  •         Disparaging remarks about the business or employees (64 percent).
  •         Harassment (64 percent).

Train Employees on the Policy

Having a policy is good, but training employees on good social media behaviors is even better.

The study’s authors and experts say the best way to mitigate the potential for misuse of social sites is through training, although “there has not been any significant increase in the number of businesses providing employees with training on appropriate use of social media,” the study states.

“If organizations want to leverage social media to increase profitability, productivity and employee engagement, they need training,” said Eric Schwartzman, CEO of Comply Socially, a social media compliance training firm. “Just because someone can use social media for personal use doesn’t mean they know how to use it for measurable business gain.”

For example, he said, “digital natives [i.e. Millennials] come into the workplace and have an impulse to share everything—if you don’t teach employees what they can and cannot share, chances are, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening.”

A social media policy “provides parameters for responsible use of social media in the workplace,” said Curtis Midkiff Jr., director of social engagement at the American Red Cross.

“The best corporate social media policies provide the ‘rules of the road’ for responsible use of social media while simultaneously encouraging employees to use [social media] as a communications and engagement vehicle,” said Midkiff, who trained thousands of HR professionals nationwide as the Society for Human Resource Management’s former director of social engagement.

After all, social media use is here to stay. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, as of 2013, 73 percent of adults use social networking sites—and 40 percent of smartphone owners deploy those sites from their phones.

Yet, Proskauer found that in 2014, 36 percent of employers worldwide actively block employees from accessing social media sites, compared to 29 percent in 2013. Training is critical, experts say.

“I have learned that once given instructions and examples of the benefits of social media use, HR professionals readily overcome their fears and concerns and embrace the possibilities,” Midkiff said.

Social Media Around the World

While employers worldwide do not monitor social media usage on employees’ personal devices, employers are permitted to monitor social media use by employees at work—with some caveats, the study states. Most take the following into consideration: data protection laws, privacy laws, rules requiring consultation with employee representatives (such as works councils in Europe), and consent of individual employees.

Briefly, the report reveals how social media is regarded in various countries:

Argentina: Because social media sites are considered “work tools” in Argentina, employers have the right to monitor how much time employees spend on the sites, but not the right to monitor the content.

Brazil: Since privacy is guaranteed through the country’s constitution, monitoring of any kind has to be disclosed to employees as part of company policy and employees have to consent—in writing—to being monitored.

Canada: Employers are allowed to monitor employees’ use of social media; however, that monitoring must be considered reasonable and not invade their privacy.

China: Employers can monitor employees, but they have to handle the data in ways that adheres to the moral standards and interests of the society.

France: Before an employer can scrutinize employees’ use of social media, it must tell and inform its works council (the European version of a union), and those employees affected have to be informed when and why the monitoring is occurring.

Germany: Works councils must also be involved in Germany for any monitoring that can impact the entire business, for example, when monitoring policies are being introduced.

Hong Kong: Before deciding to monitor employee activities on social sites, employers have to show due diligence by undergoing a systematic assessment process to determine whether employee monitoring is the best option given the risks and activities the employer seeks to manage, among other things. 
India: While no specific legal restrictions against monitoring social media exist, most

employers consider it a best practice to let employees know (usually through an employee handbook) about their right and ability to monitor social media use.

Ireland: Any restriction on an employee’s privacy rights “should be proportionate to the likely damage to the employer’s legitimate business interests,” the report states.

Italy: Employers aren’t permitted to monitor their employees’ social media content. However, an Italian employer may prevent the use of such sites during work hours and can monitor those sites if they suspect any workplace policies have been breached.

Japan: Monitoring cannot encroach on an employee’s rights or violate their privacy or violate the boundaries defined in that country’s Personal Information Privacy Act, which outlines the collection of personal information.

Spain: Employees must be told (through written policy) that the amount of time they spend on social media at work can be monitored; however, employers aren’t allowed to look at the employees’ postings without their consent.

Netherlands: Works councils must be consulted about any social networking policy the company wants to create (provided a works council exists within the individual company). What’s more, the Dutch data protection authority should be informed about any social media surveillance. “Employers are only allowed to check employee activities when there is a legitimate reason and a necessity to do so; and employees need to be informed about that possibility,” the report states.

United Kingdom: Data privacy guidelines issued by the government state that “any monitoring needs to be proportionate, which broadly means that the reason for monitoring has to be sufficient to justify the level of intrusion into an employee’s private life,” the report states.

United States: “Broadly, any monitoring of social media use (and related policies) must account for the rights of workers to engage in certain collective activities, known as protected concerted activities (such as organizing co-workers, making complaints about working conditions, on-the-job protests, picketing and strikes) under section seven of the National Labor Relations Act),” according to the report.

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM and author of A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites (SHRM, 2013).

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