Overcome 'Facebook Fear Factor'

September 23, 2009

Sharyn Alden

Develop policies regarding employee social networking practices.

Social networking has been called the new frontier of communication. But a recent report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, in London, says worries about misuse and employee bad behavior are creating a “Facebook fear factor” that companies must overcome to gain the benefits of social networking.

Developing credit union policies on the topic can go a long way toward calming fears.

Three CEOs agree: If your credit union hasn’t addressed how social networking fits with its technology policies, it may be time to update the policies to reflect today’s cultural climate in the workplace.

Relate to youth
Like it or not, social networking is a big part of life, says Anne Shivers, president/CEO of $72 million asset Carolina Collegiate Federal Credit Union, Columbia, S.C.

“Be a part of it. Don’t fight it,” she says. “We recognize there are situations where employees make comments inside and outside our office. Social networking is just louder.”

Still, it’s important to keep tabs on what’s going on, she says. For example, she recommends allowing information technology staff to monitor employee Internet and e-mail use. “Surprise someone with a review,” she says. “Be very watchful of improper site visits or downloads. Take a stand and give them a warning, and after that, they’re out the door.”

Shivers notes that an employee complaining loudly on an Internet site may translate to a right to hire or fire.

“Still, I want to stress that we do everything we can to improve and save employee relationships,” she says. “But there may be situations where you just have to cut loose.”
Dealing with social networking reflects how her credit union views communication as the heart of employment relationships. “We all need to work hard to put more value into each employee relationship,” she says.

Carolina Collegiate Federal has policies limiting personal use of the Internet and computers at work.

“Employees give up any privacy rights on our units, and our firewalls protect against certain downloads,” she says. “Usage audits need to surprise staff. We’re not talking about anything fancy. We just drop by their desk and look at their files and Internet history.”

Even with limitations on personal use, the credit union encourages participation on social media sites. As Shivers explains, “Many of us aren’t college-age, but we’d better try to relate to college-age members and staff.”

The credit union has a Facebook page and participates in Twitter. “We also allow home banking access through Facebook,” she says. “If we want our members to find us this way, we have to allow our staff to play with it.”

Consider your CU’s reputation
Kelly Diven, president/CEO, $501 million asset 66 Federal Credit Union, Bartlesville, Okla., says his credit union includes social networking tools in its technology usage policy.

“It’s important to convey to employees the potential magnitude of the reach of social networking—both the positive and negative aspects,” says Diven. “It’s amazing how fast and extensively that information can travel, and sometimes with unintended consequences.”

The credit union continually updates and educates employees on new technologies. Its policies emphasize code of conduct, code of ethics, confidentiality, and generally acceptable professional behavior.

As Diven explains, “Regardless of where social networking may occur—online, at community events, or elsewhere—it’s just another channel of communication with the same expectation for behavior that reflects on our organization.”

The credit union doesn’t monitor how employees use social networking outside of work. “However, we do have online alerts that notify us when our credit union and key employees are mentioned on the Internet,” says Diven. “This allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of all references our employees, members, and potential members are seeing or making.”

He offers an example of a positive aspect of social networking: “We received an alert saying our branch in Lawrence, Kan., was mentioned on Twitter regarding the great member service we’d provided. We contacted the new member and said thanks for the comments.

“Even though social networking is the newest method of communication,” he adds, “it’s unlikely to be the last. It emphasizes the fact that credit unions need to be prepared to adapt to the next ‘new’ means of communication.”

Address pros and cons
Joe Melbourne, president/CEO, $1.1 billion asset CFE Federal Credit Union, Lake Mary, Fla., agrees the various nuances of social media are getting a lot of buzz, including in the credit union industry.

CFE Federal employees adhere to the credit union’s Internet use policy. “However,” he notes, “as the credit union becomes a part of social media sites, policies pertaining to these sites may be subject to change.”

The credit union is assessing these trends, says Melbourne, including “crafting appropriate policies to address the various concerns with using social media.”

CFE Federal also tries to maintain balance between encouraging employees to participate in new technologies and cautioning about privacy and security concerns.

“We work to educate our employees about new technologies as they emerge,” says Melbourne. “We explain what the technology is, what it means, and how they can help.

“We also work with employees and use improvisational scenarios to help illustrate privacy and security concerns and how to handle these situations. Plus, we ask employees to go through our social engineering program to refresh their memories and prepare them for the medium.

“If an employee has ‘talked up’ the credit union through e-mails or social networking sites, we want to address that and highlight that employee,” adds Melbourne.

If a disgruntled worker posts messages on the Internet under the umbrella of being an employee, he says, “Their actions would fall under our internal policies, regardless of their being at work or at home. Our social networking policy will clearly address these situations.”

The credit union takes a positive stance even if people post negative messages online, says Melbourne. “Negative messages, regardless of who posts them, represent an opportunity to look at our processes and determine if we can do something better to have a more positive impact on our members and employees.”