Q: I am currently writing a social media policy that would pretty much make it impossible for me to continue tweeting the kind of things I do. I have worked diligently to build the number of followers I have. I do not want to start a new Twitter account, but I want to write a decent social media policy for the health care company for which I work. How should I proceed?
Dave in Alaska, via e-mail
A: Well, Dave, I'm of the mind that people should be allowed to do as they please on their social media sites, providing, of course, that they don't do anything stupid. And there's the rub.
We tend to be wildly fallible creatures, and sites like Twitter and Facebook are like mythological sirens, seducing us to type things we'll later regret. Companies have to find ways to balance employees' free speech rights with concerns over their own reputations or brand names.
But Michael Zimmer, a law professor at Loyola University Chicago and an expert on employment law, said that's no easy trick.
"Companies are in a tough squeeze at the moment," Zimmer said. "Everything is moving so fast, and the law isn't clear."
A Connecticut woman fired from her job as an ambulance driver after calling her boss a name on Facebook recently had her federal labor lawsuit settled before it went to a hearing. The ambulance company wound up agreeing to change its policy, which restricted employees from discussing work when they're not on the clock.
That was a high-profile case, one that will make it hard for companies to specifically outlaw work chatter on social media. So Dave, you have your work cut out for you.
Zimmer suggested keeping the policy positive: "You want to say to people, 'Remember, you're an employee of company X, and we want the best possible public image that we can have. So when you're engaging in social media that could be attributable to our company, just remember that we're all on the same team.' "
Zimmer added: "If you start cracking back on them, some people will just say, 'Well, to hell with you.' "
And they could well get away with saying that, since the law remains so unclear.
The takeaway here is that whatever social media policy you write shouldn't hamper the work you've done building up a Twitter following. Just try to avoid tweeting when angry. Or drunk. Or tired. Or ... well, let's just be careful out there, okay?
Q: How do I let a co-worker know that the only reason I haven't beaten them to death with a printer is their candy dish?
Chris in Ottawa, via Twitter
A: This is a simple cost-benefit analysis, Chris. Any economist would tell you that candy is awesome, and since this is free candy, you're looking at pure benefit, and probably some Snickers. Also, killing is wrong. So steer clear of that.