Social Networks Sites in the Workplace: An Introduction

May 2009

Social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and others help individuals communicate with friends and family, exchange ideas with colleagues in their fields of work, or share information with those who have similar interests. They can be used for project collaboration, event organization or public outreach. SNS have become a vital medium for many professionals and an everyday communication tool for millions of Canadians. Like email or cell-phones, SNS are used by people of all ages. 

Using SNS in the workplace raise complex issues that affect employee privacy, corporate security or branding and have an impact on the employment relationship. Management and staff may have differing views on the appropriate use of SNS in the employment context and perceive privacy and security matters differently. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner encourages employers to speak with their employees about the privacy implications of using SNS in the workplace, and establish workplace policies to manage expectations of online conduct.

The following points contain some basic information about SNS for both Employers and employees when considering their use in the workplace:

  • A SNS is a web-based service that provides a way for users to interact with an online community or network of people with a common interest e.g. friends, family, recreational interests, etc. SNS allow individual users to construct a personal profile within the website, specify a list of other users with whom they have a connection, and view their list of contacts in addition to the contacts of other users on the site. Individuals on SNS can interact with one another using email, instant messaging services, or file-sharing.
  • SNS are among some of the busiest websites on the Internet – particularly in Canada, the United States and the UK – each receiving millions of visits daily. Some of the more popular SNS have over 100 million registered users, with individuals over 25 years of age the fastest growing group of users.
  • SNS users can be members of many different networks, each reflecting a connection to a school, workplace, geographic region or social group.
  • Users’ profiles frequently include photos, educational background, personal interests, biographical information and contact details. Privacy settings on SNS allow users to limit access to their personal profile information. A best practice for users is to restrict access to their profile data to users from the same network or confirmed friends. 
  • SNS users should also know certain key personal information can provide a basis for identity theft. Personal information like full date of birth, phone number or home address should not appear on SNS profiles, especially on member profiles of open networks.

For more information see: Privacy and Social Networking in the Workplace.

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