Social Media Policy and Employee Guidance

The creation of a social media policy has been a time consuming process for my organizations.  There has been a lot of education and various leaders were in very different positions that we needed to reconcile.  If you have been charged with this task for your organization be prepared to spend a lot of time to bring people along.  Also, have a plan to get the policy out to managers, then staff.  That order is important because your managers need to have the dialogue before they are in a position to effectively support the policy.

Education of the staff is the greatest value of the process.  If you simply post the policy to use for enforcement you have missed out.  Employees need to understand how your organization’s rules apply to the new online world.  You need to provide them with the guidance in the same way you provide your children guidance about what is appropriate behavior online.

While this is our near final policy, one cannot count on this being updated at any point in time.  Ministry employees need to refer to the version in the policy database.  I suspect it will change frequently.  For example, we are already updating the policy and guidance to improve employee awareness of  social engineering tactics.

As always, I appreciate your comments (supportive and constructive):

This is only a summary of the policy principles (the employee guidance).  I may post the full policy later:

Social Media Guidelines for Ministry Workforce Members

The following guidelines have been created to help Ministry workforce members understand how communications through Social Media and Blogs may overlap with their work world and their personal lives.  Ministry recognizes that opportunities offered by Social Media sites and Blogs are subject to constant changes and enhancements; Ministry will strive to continuously address these new opportunities and challenges through this medium and continue to update this guidance.

Today, virtually every Workforce member of Ministry Health Care has an email account and the capacity to access “Our Ministry” and surf the Internet.  Ministry is seeking to find a balance as it relates to Social Media.  On the one hand, there are emerging opportunities to leverage Social Media like Facebook that we are yet to fully understand.  This includes new ways to establish a positive Ministry presence on a wider scale, to collaborate with thought leaders, and perhaps most importantly to engage our patients.  On the other hand, there are significant concerns about Social Media being a Workforce distraction that negatively impacts productivity (especially given the seemingly addictive nature of Facebook and other Social Media sites).

Ministry leadership will continue to evaluate the right balance.  As of this writing, Ministry is not blocking access to Social Media sites because Ministry encourages organizational innovation.  However, some, business units, departments and work groups may develop policies that restrict the use of Social Media sites to any number of degrees (e.g., total ban, specific locations, specific times, etc.).  All Workforce members providing services at or on behalf of an Organization that adopts a more strict policy on the use of Social Media and Blogs must comply with the more strict policy.

There are some simple guidelines to keep in mind when using Social Media sites.  These guidelines are really based on existing policies, but it is worth the exercise of translating those policies for applicability in the online world.  There is a detailed HR Policy on Social Media and Blogs, but here are some key highlights in broad terms:

First And Foremost, Respect the Privacy of Our Patients

Ministry workforce members should never publicly make comments about the care of a specific patient, including online.  Even acknowledging the care of a patient is an unacceptable disclosure of patient identifying information.

Remember, disclosing confidential patient information in an inappropriate manner is a federal offense under HIPAA.  The penalties include significant fines and/or criminal penalties.  Ministry Organizations take violations of patient privacy very seriously and will always take corrective action when aware of such a violation.  Because we share a common electronic patient record with Marshfield Clinic, termination of employment for patient privacy violations can result in your ban from employment by the Marshfield Clinic as well.

Live the Ministry Promise and Values When Online

Don’t post statements on Social Media sites (or any other medium) that may harm the reputation of Ministry Health Care.  This is not to say that everything you say in the public domain about Ministry or Ministry Organizations has to be flattering, but there is a significant difference between occasional constructive criticism and statements that are harmful to the Organization’s reputation.

Be a Productive, High-Performing Workforce Member

It has been Ministry’s policy to only block web sites that are clearly inconsistent with our values.  We do not consider Facebook or other Social Media sites as such sites.  However, many find Social Media sites to be addictive in nature.  While Ministry policy does not ban access to Social Media sites at work, workforce members should not, for example, be checking their Facebook updates or using other Social Media sites for personal, non-work related purposes when they are supposed to be doing their job.  Individual sites or departments may set policies restricting Internet and Social Media site access.

Workforce members should not be checking personal Social Media sites/Facebook when performing work duties.  Workforce members that visit Social Media sites should avoid doing so in the presence of patients and other visitors.  Even if access to Social Media sites is related to work, or carried out on a break, it may be perceived by our customers as neglectful of patient care.

Realize That Social Media Posts Are NOT Private

Even though there are privacy controls on sites such as Facebook and other Social Media sites, you should assume that anything posted on a website that has not been examined by the IT department will be seen by the general public, as well as your employer.  Don’t rely on privacy settings:

  • It is possible for those settings to be accidentally set to more open settings;
  • Friends can copy and paste what you post to more open forums; and
  • You may not remember everyone that has access to what you post.

Don’t Jeopardize Your Reputation and/or Future Employment Opportunities

You should consider that everything you post online begins to build a lifetime record of you and your activities.  Increasingly, employers will search this online history using Google or web sites like

The Internet is your permanent record.  What is posted on the Internet is cached by Google forever and otherwise copied to innumerable other places out of your control.  The Internet is a pen, not a pencil.

As you post comments on social networking sites that are attributable to you, consider the impact those comments will have when read by potential employers, friends, family, law enforcement or someone you might date.

Don’t Alienate Your Co-workers

Remember, you have to work with these people.  Use common sense.  Remember what your mother told you about gossip.

Social Media Opportunities

At Ministry we believe that social networking may be a sea change in the way people communicate.  Facebook and other web sites have created an opportunity to change the way we work that we do not yet fully understand.

We Need a Tech Savvy Workforce

The skills you develop using the Internet and Social Media sites improve the IT skills that we need Ministry workforce members to possess to compete in the future.  We understand that tech savvy people check their Facebook page several times a day.  In many ways, using Social Media sites has replaced the phone as a means for staying in touch.  While we have concerns about workforce member productivity, we want to support the lifestyle of the tech savvy worker.  Unlike other companies, we have decided not to block Facebook or other Social Media sites at the system level; instead, we are asking our workforce members to use this access responsibly and asking our managers to address irresponsible use through appropriate Corrective Action, not technical restrictions.

The Best Advertising Used to be Word-of-Mouth – Now it is:  “Word-of-Mouse”

In the near future, Ministry’s best advertising will come from workforce member sharing with their communities how we are living Our Promise every day.  A well-written Facebook or similar Social Media site post about a new service or the care that we provide to our patients will have far greater effect than a paid TV commercial.  While that post may not have the same reach, the fact that it is coming from a person that is trusted in their community will mean the message has more weight.  People listen to people.  Corporate voices are discounted to a large degree, no matter how glossy the pictures or well written the copy.

It is OK to tell people you work for a Ministry Organization in your social profiles.  We are proud of our workforce members and we believe our reputation is enhanced when people know the quality of our Workforce.

We are encouraging workforce members to talk about work online, but in a responsible, legal manner avoiding the pitfalls we have outlined above.  We hope workforce members will write about positive experiences that they have working with their co-workers.  We hope workforce members will write about thank-you notes they receive from appreciative patients (of course, without identifying the patients).  We are hoping workforce members educate their communities about the services we provide that can benefit their family and friends (online and “traditional” communications).

Ministry management understands that we have discussed many restrictions regarding information sharing.  The natural result may be hesitancy on the part of some workforce members to share anything.  To assist you, we will be working on communicating the types of things you should feel free to share on Social Media sites.

To start, we encourage you to become a fan of Ministry Health Care at our Facebook page:

Workforce members are always welcome to share Ministry fan page posts with their friends.  In the future we will work with others that produce internal communications and encourage them to identify which of their communications can be shared on Social Media sites and which are for internal use only.  We will also develop guidance for workforce members regarding the day-to-day activities in their work place that are appropriate to change.  For example, we would love for everyone on Facebook to tell their friends when the office hours change in the clinic where they work.

Share Your Knowledge

Everyone that works at Ministry has knowledge, talent, and special skills.  Ministry workforce members who participate in social media and blogs are encouraged to share this information on Social Media sites.  There is a halo effect to doing so.  If such information is shared with others, they will remember you and your Organization when it comes time to get those services.  It can also be beneficial to your own career development when you establish yourself online as an expert in your field and passionate about your vocation.

Many people at Ministry are doing that today.  The IT Director at Our Lady of Victory has a blog where he regularly posts what he observes in IT.  A rad tech at Affinity uses Facebook to share with other rad techs what she is learning on the job.  Many others are using Social Media sites to share their knowledge, talents, and skills with others.  This reflects positively on them and on Ministry.

These individuals are routinely contacted by others, including the media, through the Social Media tools they used based on the contributions they have made.  As they are cited by the media as experts in their fields, that has a positive reflection on Ministry.  If you are contacted by the media as a result of your Social Media activities, you are encouraged to contact Marketing.  Marketing not only wants to track these experiences, they can also assist in providing you with guidance in responding in a knowledgeable and articulate manner.

After the Brainstrom

Sometimes I see people cling to old habits, even though there are clearly easier ways to do things.  I am not talking about something that would require a new computer system and a large IT project.  Just day-to-day stuff.  Here is one example…

I love whiteboards.  I love to use them to brainstorm ideas.  Once upon a time SmartBoards were popular.  They were a way cool, but expensive, way to capture those notes on paper.  They are no longer necessary.  An average digital camera can capture a large whiteboard with enough detail to preserve and share your moments of inspiration.  I find a camera needs to be at least 5 megapixel to get the desired resolution, so cameras on mobile phones (including BlackBerrys and iPhones) are less than ideal. Like most gadget lovers I upgrade cameras frequently.  So my former primary shooter becomes my work phone.

While the .jpg files straight from the camera work fine there is a free web service that will make those images even better.  You can upload your images, which will turn them into PDF files that are much more readable. [Update: on 25 October 2009 I received an email from Qipit stating that they were shutting down their online service.]


This tip applies to those giant easel pads. Don’t carry out all that paper.  Your digital camera is a great way to capture those too.

Bonus tip: if you have a whiteboard in your office, keep whiteboard wipes on your desk.