Social Media Use on the Internet

A Guide for University of Iowa Employees

Both organizations and individuals are using social media sites (e.g., LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, Twitter) as a medium to share information and connect with people.  Business uses include connecting work groups, facilitating knowledge transfer, recruiting, rapid dissemination of information as conditions change, and connecting with customers for sales purposes.  Individuals may use these tools to reconnect with people who are distant in both time and location or to connect with others who share similar interests.  Regardless of the purpose, these tools can shape perceptions, thinking, purchasing decisions, etc., with great speed as they rapidly reach many more people than previous communication and marketing tools.  While this rapid and widespread dissemination has many advantages when communicating a message that is deliberate and thoughtful, frequent news stories about the unintended consequences abound.  Examples have ranged from the possibility of home robberies resulting from Tweets about going on vacation, to employees who posted a video of preparing food in an unsanitary way that led to charges of health code violations, damaged the public’s perception of quality in relation to the company’s brand, and resulted in the termination of the employees.

In an effort to educate our employees about the benefits and risks of social media similar to the education provided to our students on this subject to minimize personal and future career risk, suggested guidelines for use of social media are provided below.  These guidelines are intended to support the creative and innovative use of social media by employees to further University purposes in a manner that minimizes personal, professional and institutional risk.

Best Practice Guidelines in Using Social Media

When planning for any communication, you typically need to consider:

  • What group am I trying to reach?
  • Which media work best to connect with that group?
  • What is the purpose and focus of the message?
  • What information supports my message?
  • How will I keep the information current and who will be responsible for the communication?
  • How will I keep the information interesting to connect with my audience?
  • How will I respond to those who connect with me?
  • How will I want to control the use/dissemination of the message?

Due to social media’s immediacy, breadth and potential for interaction, its tools create special challenges.  University employees may use social media sites to conduct University business either for their own unit/college/division, for an authorized University committee or group, or may use it for personal reasons.  Whether your use of social media is for University business or personal use, being thoughtful about what and how much to share on a social media site is important.  Those seeking information about the University and the people who work here commonly “Google” them and read social media sites.  In some instances this information taken out of its intended context could be damaging to the individual’s and/or the University’s reputation.

  • Consider what privacy settings you want to set in order to control who looks at your information and how it is used.  Be aware that you cannot completely limit access and you have no control of what someone else may share.  All employees, especially those in supervisory, teaching, and patient care roles should consider who they are “friending.”  Comments about work made to students, patients, or coworkers on social media sites may lead to misunderstandings, damaged reputations and/or other personal or employment risks.
  • Remember that items you post , even if later you wish to remove them, may be difficult to remove or could remain available due to the high probability that the site or its contents have been saved or archived to an Internet Archive or have been shared or downloaded by someone.
  • Assess what image you are projecting of yourself and/or the University to the public by the materials and/or photos you post.
  • Be respectful of others by asking permission before sharing information/pictures to prevent infringing on their privacy.   Be thoughtful about what you share.  Could you be sharing private information covered by law or policy such as student information, patient information, employee personnel information or intellectual property?
  • Be sure your equipment has Spyware and virus protections installed. Many social networking sites collect profile information to SPAM you or have links that can infect your equipment and/or data.
  • Any time you engage with new people, you put yourself at some risk of how you will be perceived or how others might use information about you.  Using social media on the internet to share your personal information enhances that risk as many more people have access to the information you share.  Determine how much information you want others to know about you.  Avoid posting your full name, address, date of birth, place of birth, phone number(s) as this type of personal identifying information can be used to locate where you live or to steal your identity.  Other information such as a list of your personal interests may subject you to other forms of unwanted attention or solicitation.

Laws and Policies That Must Be Followed

  • Use of the University name, wordmark, or logo is limited to official University business consistent with Publication (Identity) Standards.   If you are not representing the University but using social media for personal reasons and identify yourself as a UI employee, consider using a disclaimer such as, “The contents on this site or blog are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of anyone else including others at The University of Iowa.” Use of the University name is also limited by the Use of University Name policy.
  • The University Ethics policies and the expectations and policies imbedded within by reference (human rights and diversity, violence, sexual and other forms of harassment, drug free workplace, anti-retaliation, etc.) govern conduct in the context of employment and also apply to cyperspace.  The use of social media does not change the expectations set forth by these policies.  For example, posting comments/pictures, etc., as a form of harassment would be a violation of University policy, regardless of the technology used. Please see the Operations Manual for Ethics and Responsibilities For University of Iowa Staff and Responsibilities to Faculty and Staff Colleagues.
  • Be aware of and comply with the University of Iowa Copyright Policy
  • Student, patient, employee information and intellectual property are limited in terms of disclosure. Please see Operations Manual policies related to Treatment of Student Education Records, University of Iowa Intellectual Property Personnel Records,  or U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Comply with “Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources” policy in terms of minimal personal use and appropriate use of University technology resources.  Minimal personal use is acceptable but cannot create other problems such as interfering with the performance and productivity of your or someone else assigned job responsibilities or compromising the function of the campus network.   You may not use University electronic resources for personal uses such as commercial business activities, charitable solicitation, or lobbying.

Individual units within the University may further define conditions of use for social media based upon specific work unit needs.  If the unit creates additional policy or guidelines, they must be consistent in principle with University guidelines and policies, but may provide additional detail, guidelines or restrictions which are responsive to the unit’s particular workplace issues.  In such instances, employees will adhere to the more restrictive guidelines or policies.

Use of Social Media for Recruiting, References, and Background Checks

Use of social media sites for the purposes noted above is not advocated by The University of Iowa’s policies and guidelines.  However, if you do use them, please note the following:

  • Use of social media sites for recruiting cannot be the only or primary source for recruiting as this may adversely impact the diversity of your applicant pool.  These sites can be used to post information about an opportunity at the University; they should not be used to look for or screen applicants.  Such action could violate principles of Affirmative Action if certain identifying information is gained.
  • If you plan to check social media sites for information about your applicants, you are to notify them of your intention so they have the opportunity to remove identifying information about race, religion, color, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of which you are not to be aware as part of your decision making process.  If you find information that leads you to be concerned about a decision to hire, you must advise the applicant and ask for an explanation similar to what is done with a reference or background check issue.  Since information on social media sites could be posted by others or tampered with, it is important to talk with the applicant about your concerns.  Checking social media sites is not a substitute for conducting reference checks or a formal background check if one is required by the position.  You must be consistent in your use of social media for all applicants.
  •  Be cautious about what you post as a reference on a social media site.  Comments made in the context of your official role at the University could later become an issue if there are grievances or litigation about employment and performance.
  • Social media may be one form of employee communication that you want to use when recruiting, checking references, conducting background checks, and communicating with applicants and employees.  Recognize who it may or may not reach and what information is best communicated in various forms.  Remember that electronic communication never replaces the need for personal contact.