Social Media and Children: A Fine Line

November 15, 2010 by admin

I had the pleasure of meeting with a great group of employees from one of our YMCA partners this afternoon.The group, which included Y summer camp directors and employees in marketing, human resources, and risk management departments, was assembled to assess and update the Y's policies on social media and external communications. I was asked to represent West Bend and share my thoughts on the insurance and liability implications of any new policy decisions.

Ultimately, we wanted to reach a consensus on a single question. Should employees be permitted to communicate with minors outside of the organization's programs? After an hour of listing the pros and cons of a wide variety of ideas, we reached a consensus. The consensus was :

Reaching a consensus is not going to be easy.

Summer camp staff think maintaining contact with campers after the summer months is crucial to developing deep, long-lasting connections with campers. From a marketing standpoint, contact outside of programs maintains interest in the organization and promotes the brand. Risk managers believe the potential for inappropriate communication is too great, and therefore presents unwanted, and avoidable, exposure. And those in human resources are concerned with the daunting task of enforcing any policy, regardless of how lenient or stringent it might be.

The trouble is... nobody is wrong.

Social media, texting, emails, and the like are all excellent tools for building a strong brand and engaging people in deep, personal ways. With that said, however, a single inappropriate message or photo can have an equally deep and long-lasting impact on an child-focused organization. And, from an HR standpoint, is any community organization prepared to discipline (and potentially terminate) every employee that reaches out to minor program participants?

As I mentioned... we didn't reach a consensus. Will we? Maybe. This is unchartered territory for all organizations, not just the West Bend's customers. We're committed to working with organizations across the country on this topic, and I look forward to sharing our discussions as progress is made.

What are your thoughts on an employee communicating electronically with minors?  Do you see a common ground that can be reached between marketing, risk management, and HR? What is your organization doing? Let us know in the comments section below.

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