Establishing a Company Social Media Policy

Richard Hy, a New York policeman, found out the hard way that joking on social media about stealing cocaine from the evidence room was a bad idea. Hy was suspended without pay. A waitress was recently fired for posting complaints about a customer on Facebook. A woman lost a job offer at  Cisco because of comments she made on Twitter.

Social media sites, such as Facebook, Vine and Twitter, represent potential pitfalls for both employees and businesses. Employees need to be wary of what they post on social media, keeping in mind a 2013 quote from former Google chairman Eric Schmidt:

This lack of a delete button on the Internet is in fact a significant issue.

As early as 2009, Schmidt warned of the lack of privacy and the long-term availability of information on the internet:

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place, but if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example, that we are all
subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities.

In the days where comments go “viral” in seconds, businesses should have social media policies to manage and monitor what is being said about the company and how social media is used. A social media policy outlines for employees the guidelines of communicating online. It is a company’s first line of defense to mitigate risk for both employer and employee. It’s wise to create a social media policy with stated, written protocols, accessible to employees who are made aware of the policies.

A social media strategist at Social Media Explorer LLC in Kentucky, suggests companies create:

  • Employee Code of Conduct for Online Communications and Online Company Representation
  • Employee Corporate and Personal Blog Policy
  • Employee Corporate and Personal Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn Usage Policy
  • Corporate Facebook Brand Page Usage and Facebook Public Comment/Messaging Policy
  • Corporate YouTube and Public Comment Policy
  • Company Password Policy

Social media offers huge opportunities for employees to help build a company, but employees can also damage a company on social media. Carefully considered guidelines can help mitigate that risk. A good start to creating a social media policy is to collaborate with your most active social media employees.

When crafting a policy, be sure to include the following:

  1. Remind employees to read the policies included in the employee handbook applicable to multi-media, social networking websites, blogs and wikis for both professional and personal use.
  2. Internet postings should not disclose any confidential or propriety information of the company or of any third party.
  3. If an employee comments on any aspect of the company, they must identify themselves as an employee and include a disclaimer, such as “the views expressed are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the company.”
  4. Internet postings must respect copyright, privacy, fair use, financial disclosure, and other applicable
    laws.
  5. Corporate blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, etc., could require approval when the employee is posting about the company and the industry.
  6. The company reserves the right to request the certain subjects are avoided, withdraw certain posts, and remove inappropriate comments.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Many companies have developed clear, comprehensive social media policies. The Social Media Governance website has an online database of over 100 social media policies. A few examples follow:

Adidas:

Employees are allowed to associate themselves with the company when posting but they must clearly brand their online posts as personal and purely their own. The company should not be held liable for any repercussions the employees’ content may generate.

Content pertaining to sensitive company information (particularly those found within Adidas internal networks) should not be shared to the outside online community. Divulging information like the company’s design plans, internal operations and legal matters are prohibited.

Proper copyright and reference laws should be observed by employees when posting online.

GAP:

Some key excerpts from GAP’s social media policy include:

Some subjects can invite a flame war. Be careful discussing things where emotions run high (e.g. politics and religion) and show respect for others’ opinions.

Your job comes first. Unless you are an authorized Social Media Manager, don’t let social media affect your job performance.
If you #!%#@# up? Correct it immediately and be clear about what you’ve done to fix it. Contact the social media team if it’s a real doozy.

Don’t even think about it…. Talking about financial information, sales trends, strategies, forecasts, legal issues, future promotional activities. Giving out personal information about customers or employees. Posting confidential or non-public information. Responding to an offensive or negative post by a customer. There’s no winner in that game.

A well-crafted social media policy can help protect a company’s reputation. Guidelines for employees as to what’s appropriate and acceptable online offer a framework for social media behavior. Clearly establishing the policies beforehand, and determining the roles of various personnel, eliminates uncertainty and allows for enforcement of the policy itself, including the consequences of non-compliance.