Social Media Ethics

Social networking in the workplace presents both risk and value for employees and employers alike. Two years ago the Ethics Resource Center (now the Ethics Research Center) reported that the growth in social networking by employees has serious implications for employers but also creates opportunities (Ethics Resource Center, 2013).

It stated, “Workplace ‘secrets’ are no lon­ger secret, and management must assume that anything that happens at work; any new policy, product, or problem, could become publicly known at almost any time.” However, the ERC report also stated,“Creative businesses can also use social networking to their advantage in terms of workplace ethics, using it internally to reinforce company values and build workforce loyalty and cohesion.”

One of its four major recommendations was that employers should establish a social networking policy “sooner rather than later” and reinforce it with training to reduce ethics risks for employees and management alike. The rules, it said, must reflect today’s realities so that workers are more likely to abide by them. (For a summary of all four recommendations, see Ethics Policy and Social Media Use.)

For those organizations that have not yet developed an ethics-related social media policy and for those that would like to benchmark the policies they have created, there is helpful information available.

Attorney Michelle Sherman’s list of 10 “must haves” for the social media component of corporate ethics and compliance programs is still valid, even if several years old (Sherman, 2011). We’ve summarized five of those ten below (see the reference section for a link to the full article).

  • Adopt a social media policy.
  • Implement an effective training program on how your employees should use social media, with emphasis on areas of particular concern for your company, to include such things as proprietary information, brand protection, and more.
  • Train your HR department, managers and anyone making employment decisions so they do not use information from social networking sites to discriminate against anyone based on protected factors under federal or state law.
  • Take reasonable measures to protect your trade secrets, to include addressing the topic in your social media policy with training for employees so they are not inadvertently disclosing the company’s trade secrets.
  • Review all policies and practices related to legal and regulatory requirements (Federal Trade Commission, Sarbanes-Oxley, Securities and Exchange Commission, etc.); ensure your social media policies and practices are in line.

For an example of social media “standards of conduct,” look at the U.S. Office of Government Ethics standards document, recently sent to U.S. agency ethics officials and released on the OGE’s public website (OGE, 2015). Although the language is specific to Federal executive branch employees and agencies, it could easily be adapted for private sector organizations. The document addresses such social media-related topics as

  • use of [company] time and property,
  • reference to [company] title or position and appearance of official sanction,
  • recommending and endorsing others on social media,
  • seeking employment through social media,
  • disclosing nonpublic information,
  • personal fundraising, and
  • official [company] social media accounts.

Those organizations that adopt clear social media-related policies and standards, communicate them frequently, and provide ongoing education and training about them will mitigate the risks and build on the opportunities presented by social media in the workplace.

Ethical Advocate can assist you to define and integrate social media policies into your ethics and compliance program. Contact us for more information.


Ethics Resource Center. National Business Ethics Survey of Social Networkers: New Risks and Opportunities at Work, 2013.

Sherman, Michelle. “10 Social Media Must Haves for Your Corporate Compliance and Ethics Program,” July 21, 2011.

United States Office of Government Ethics. The Standards of Conduct as Applied to Personal Social Media Use, LA-15-03,April 9, 2015.