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Largo considers social media policy for employees, how to archive city posts

LARGO — Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have provided the city with another way to spread news to residents. Facebook has even helped the city make a cool $1,000. And someday, it may get a city employee fired.

Social media is a double-edged sword. While it gives city governments another means of communication, it also gives city government employees another way to potentially irk their bosses. By using social media, Largo also is adding another form of written communication that must be archived for the city to comply with public records laws.

Largo city management is grappling with the pros and cons of social media this month by developing a policy for employees, explaining how the city's official social media accounts should be used and how employees should behave on their private social media accounts.

The policy boils down to this: What you may think is private isn't, so be careful what you say.

Human Resources Director Susan Sinz said city management would consider complaints regarding employee social media activity on a "case-by-case basis."

A simple Google search — "fired over Facebook" — produces several stories of people elsewhere who were canned for Facebook faux pas.

• A waiter at a North Carolina pizza shop was fired last year after she complained on Facebook about customers leaving a bad tip.

• An employee at a Swiss insurance company was fired in 2009 for logging onto Facebook from home after she told her employer she was too sick to sit in front of a computer.

• Virgin Airlines fired 13 employees in 2008 after they mocked customers and the quality of Virgin airplanes on Facebook.

No Largo employees have joined that list yet, and Sinz hopes the policy, which should be explained to employees in October, will head off any misunderstandings.

"People need to be reminded, as they are employed with the city of Largo … that there are certain expectations that we have of them," Sinz told the City Commission at Tuesday's work session. "On and off duty."

Before Sinz briefed commissioners on the new policy, Jonathan Evans, assistant to the city manager, summarized Largo's social media efforts to spread city news. Largo's Recreation, Parks and Arts Department has a Facebook page, as do the Largo Golf Course, Largo Public Library and Largo Fire Rescue. Combined, more than 3,000 people have "liked" the different Largo Facebook pages.

"We really think it gets to a different demographic than folks on the website ( largo.com)," Evans told commissioners.

The recreation department's page actually has made the city some extra money. After the city posted an item on the page about a breakfast event in 2009, a citizen asked whether Largo could add a second event, which it did, resulting in about $1,000 of extra revenue, according to Evans.

With a new medium for the city to communicate with residents comes added public records duties, though. Largo needs to keep archives of its Facebook and Twitter activity, a time-consuming process that will get easier after the city signs up with Smarsh, a private company that specializes in helping businesses and government organizations keep records of their social media activity.

The Smarsh service will cost $5,000 annually, according to Evans. Instead of having to save a screen grab of the Facebook or Twitter account each time a comment is made, city management will be able to search through Smarsh archives.

"It's going to allow for us to access that info 10 times faster than we can now," Evans said.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

Largo considers social media policy for employees, how to archive city posts 09/17/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 16, 2011 5:41pm]
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