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New research into the overlap of personal and professional social media use has found that those working within the finance sector are most likely to be judgemental of what they find on the social media accounts of an interviewer or interviewee.

In the study, 1 in 5 employees in the finance sector admitted that what they’d found on social media profiles about an interviewer or interviewee had altered their judgement of them.

The finance sector were also found to be the most choosy about who they accepted as ‘friends’ on Facebook, with 42% saying they would accept some colleagues but definitely not their manager.

The research – which was carried out in October 2015 of over 1,000 UK employees – found that finance employees are the most cooperative with their employer’s social media rules, with over half (55%) stating that they’ve read and follow their company’s social media policy.

What do the findings mean for the finance sector?

The findings are encouraging, demonstrating that the financial sector is taking steps to protect and manage the risk to its reputation.

Following the latest report from Ipsos Global Reputation Centre which found that the finance industry has not regained trust following the 2008 crisis; it’s more important than ever that the finance sector is proactive in limiting the chances of a pubic crisis and this involves monitoring risk across all sectors of a business.

So often, the marketing and communications department of a business is relied upon to manage and monitor for PR crises; but increasingly, companies are realising that a risk to reputation can come from any area of a business.

There have been a number of highly-publicised cases in the past few years where an employee has posted something offensive or ill-judged on social media and consequently brought the company they work for into disrepute.

These cases highlight the importance of implementing and enforcing a social media policy for employees; educating them on what should and should not be posted in relation to their job or the company online.

That the finance sector is seemingly so compliant with corporate social media policies is a good sign that companies are protecting themselves from an online blunder.

How the finance industry compares

Overall, the study – over eight sectors – gleaned some interesting insight into how employees in varying industries use social media.

In contrast to the finance sector, the property sector seemed the least concerned with social media risk. 31% of property employees admitted their company doesn’t have a social media policy, compared to just 7% in the finance sector.

The study found the travel & leisure sector to be the least likely to allow their personal and professional social media lives to cross over, with 16% admitting they had read their company’s social media policy, but they don’t follow it, compared to just 9% of finance employees.

Unsurprisingly, the marketing & advertising industry was found to be the most willing to allow their personal and professional online lives to merge, with 10% even admitting they used their work email addresses to log into personal social media accounts.

A welcoming 41% of marketing & advertising employees also said they’d be happy to accept any colleague as a friend on Facebook, compared to 32% in the finance sector.

The social media risk

The growing influence of social media has created somewhat of a HR dilemma in recent years. Is it acceptable to discipline staff based on what they post on their personal social media accounts? Many companies have shied away from setting any rules in place for social media for their staff because they don’t know what they can and cannot enforce.

In July 2012, two care home workers were suspended for posting a picture on Facebook in which they mocked patients. The picture caught attention on Facebook and gathered momentum until a local newspaper published it, and subsequently the police, social services and the Care Quality Commission got involved.

The company which owned the care home had to prepare and release statements to the press and to the family of patients, demonstrating the impact that one ill-judged photo posted online can have.

Although you can’t always control what your staff may post online, had this company implemented a social media policy which made it inherently clear what was and was not acceptable behaviour, this situation may have been avoided.

It’s not just employees posting about their company either, if they’re posting offensive messages publicly and they’re associated with a company (their company name might be in their profile, for example) then they are putting that company at risk.

Effective corporate social media guidelines should clearly state what type of behaviour would result in discipline, and how social media profiles might be monitored.

A policy should also include what employees should do if they spot a potential issue and who they should escalate it to. By having a crisis plan in place, companies can jump on a threat as quickly as possible.