SOCIAL media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become a way of life for many of us.
You can use them to reconnect with old school friends and keep up to date with anything from the latest news to the views of your neighbour or the antics of top A-list celebrities.
But misusing social media sites at work could have catastrophic consequences.
Social media kicked off in 2003 with Myspace, which launched the careers of musicians like singer Lily Allen and indie-rock band Arctic Monkeys.
In 2006 came Mark Zuckerburg’s Facebook, allowing users to find old school friends, and in the same year Twitter was launched, where the average person can ‘follow’ top actors, musicians and household names and post short comment-based ‘tweets’.
Now the Law Society is warning solicitors not to become involved with their clients on such websites.
And it’s advice many other professionals could do well to heed.
Many professionals use Facebook and Twitter to communicate their services with clients but the Law Society says the websites should be used with caution.
It has issued guidance for lawyers, warning that ‘befriending’ clients on social media sites could lead to breaches in confidentiality.
It also advises businesses to weigh up the benefits of using social media against the risks.
Law Society president John Wooton says: “We advise keeping your professional life separate from your personal social networking activities. Anything posted online is accessible in the public domain.”
The society advises business networking sites such as LinkedIn, Biznik and Focus as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter.
Another way employees could feel the negative effect of social media is by using the sites too much in work hours.
Many companies have to monitor employees’ internet usage to make sure they’re not spending too much time surfing the web, and workers have been caught out after calling in sick and then posting online about their antics the previous night.
The popularity of these social networking tools is reflected in a grievance log at Kirklees Council, which didn’t have any social network-related complaints in 2008, but two in each year in 2009 and 2010.
Complaints stem from employees making derogatory comments about their colleagues, their manager or the council as their employer.
Comments made on social media websites have been used as evidence in disciplinary hearings.
A council spokeswoman said: “Whilst the number of complaints about employees do not appear to have changed significantly, there has been a relatively small number of issues raised in relation to the use of social media from both clients, who use the council as a service, and employees.”
She said Kirklees Council issued guidance on social media to its employees.
If an employee had a concern about something posted on a social media site, they could either raise it with the authority or with their manager, she said.