Why Your Business Needs a Social Media Policy and What Should Be In It

Last year, a business was compelled to pay $6,200 to a former employee who wrote an offensive Facebook comment saying; extremely immoral words to another employee.

In another incident, Cricket Tasmania in Australian dismissed one of its employee, who burst out openly about the lack of abortion facilities in the state, an action which caused that employee serious discomfort, as he had to face the legal actions.

Over the last decade, many incidents of similar nature have been recorded. In many such decisions, some unfortunate – employees were penalized for things, which they had not practiced. Consequently, shocking, businesses with huge financial losses and negative vibes about the brand.

This emerging ‘red alert’ can create serious hassle for employers, as the ever growing social media has blurred the boundaries between what’s work and not and how employees should carry themselves on social media forums.

To make sure, you don’t face any such kind of problem, it’s necessary for you to have a crystal clear social media policy. Because no business can’t continue like this anymore, and owners of the businesses have full right to regulate the expectations of how their employees act on global social media

“It’s 100% necessary for all businesses to have a social media policy and guidelines around that sort of activity,” according to Deborah Peppard, director and Human Resource professional of HR Staff’n Stuff.

So what is a social media policy?

A social media policy outlines how an organization and its employees should conduct themselves online. It helps safeguard your brand’s reputation and encourages employees to responsibly share the company’s message.

In general, the guidance for employee use of social media, which should be broadly understood for purposes of this policy to include blogs, wikis, micro-blogs, message boards, chat rooms, electronic newsletters, online forums, social networking sites, and other sites and services that permit users to share information with others in a contemporaneous manner.

Any business active on social media will sooner or later realize that aside from posting news and updates and engaging with fans and followers, social channels are a great avenue for building brand image and developing a loyal customer base.

Business owners who allow employees to use social media at work stand to benefit from their connections and promotion of the company’s brand. However, smart leaders realize that unflattering, illegal or incorrect information can soon land their businesses in hot water. An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure when it comes to protecting your business’s good name. Without a clear policy in place, your company risks being embarrassed by what employees post and even facing legal issues in case of a misstep or account hack.

Developing a comprehensive social media policy that includes guidelines, best practices and training tips for your employees is therefore essential. So educate and guide your staff by creating a thoughtful social media policy.

Why you need a social media policy?

Sometimes, you don’t know how social media can impact you as an employer, and why you would need a social media policy for your employees.

So here are some definite reasons your business needs a social media policy:

1. Helps you in making strong decisions

Imagine you learned your right-hand man, your General Manager, posted on Facebook that they thought people from a particular race were all stupid. While that is deplorable alone, you also know that that same class of people is a major customer base for your business. You want to fire him, even though he posted as a private citizen, not tagging the company.

Unless you have a social media policy, you might not be able to. If your General Manager posted as a private citizen, not on company time and from his computer, and you happened to see it because you are “friends” through the site with them, you are treading in murky waters of freedom of speech and potentially a wrongful termination.

2. Employees empowerment

Do your employees love working for your company? If they want to spread the love, give them the tools to do it in a way that ensures they don’t have to worry about getting on the wrong side of their boss.

With clear guidelines, companies can help employees understand how to use social media to promote the brand. Use your social media policy as an employee advocacy tool. Outline best practices for sharing company content on social, as well as commenting online—and when not to engage.

For example, Gap tells its employees to cool it around controversial subjects. “Be careful discussing things where emotions run high (e.g. politics and religion) and show respect for others’ opinions.” It also warns them against engaging with negative comments, posting confidential information about the company, or talking about internal strategies.

3. Encourage Employee Advocacy

Social media policies are essential for effective brand amplification. With clear guidelines, you can help your employees understand how they can use their social media presence to support your brand. Combined with the right advocacy tool, a good set of social media guidelines ensures that your workforce knows:

  • How to maintain the right voice on social media
  • Who should speak on the behalf of your brand
  • Which topics and information are restricted
  • How to set privacy settings appropriately

For instance, Walmart’s social media policy restricts any standard employee from responding to customer complaints directed to the business.

A strong social media policy is more than just a tool for brand awareness, it’s a strategy for business success that helps to empower your employees, reduce your risk of legal and privacy issues and ensure a consistent brand reputation.

What should be in your social media policy?

So, how do you create a social media policy for your employees that checks all the necessary boxes?

Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all template. Different organizations will need to address different rules and regulations. A health services team might need to address HIPAA issues, while a financial group might need to build their policy around the rules of the financial industry regulatory authority. However, the following tips can help get you started.

1. Include Guidelines

This section should outline your company’s expectations for appropriate employee conduct on social media. For example, many policies ask employees not to swear or state controversial opinions when posting about the company.

This section might include instructions on:

Brand guidelines: How to talk about your company and products.

Etiquette and engagement: Outline how — and if — you want employees to respond to mentions of your brand (positive and negative).

Confidentiality: Defines what company information should not be shared on social media.

Consequences: Instructs employees and managers on the consequences of abuse of social media.

Social media for personal use: Lays out how and when employees should use social media, and what to avoid.

2. Educate

Depending on your workforce, there may be employees who are not too familiar with the latest social media channels and how they should be used. If your company actively engages via social media as a brand, there may be employees who don’t understand why or see its value. This is your opportunity to educate them about social media, its importance and how it should be used by your brand/employees. A brief overview of the popular channels and how they can be used to join conversations that are important to your company are great materials to include in an effective social media policy. Oftentimes, you’ll find individuals may be against social media simply because they don’t understand it, or may be unknowingly using it to the detriment of your brand. Educating employees can quickly resolve several of these issues.

3. Encourage employee participation

Social media policy should encourage, not discourage, online activity. Don’t make a blanket declaration that staff members cannot say anything negative about your business or their job on their own pages. Such a statement can be in violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which gives employees the right to discuss their working conditions. Rather, encourage them to bring concerns directly to you instead of venting online.

Secondly, If you think about most corporate policies, they describe what you can’t do, not what you can do (e.g. you can’t take more than X days of vacation each year). So you have to take a different approach with social media. You should clearly encourage employees to engage online and to practice common sense while doing so.

4. Remember potential ramifications

Many of the problems that emerge for businesses on social media are linked to labor issues. With that in mind, you’ll need to build your social media policy with a strong understanding of how much leverage you have over an employee’s social behavior.

Regardless of whether your staff are unionized or not, they will have a right to discuss their employment with fellow employees. The bottom line is that you’ll need to be careful about the language you use to tell people what they can, or cannot do.

5. Set expectations for Behavior & Privacy

To refine your social media policy, you’ll need to be clear on exactly what you believe to be acceptable from a professional perspective. Although you can’t control everything your employees post online, you can be specific about which opinions should be kept away from anything brand-related.

Give your group a brief explanation on how the privacy features work on the sharing platforms you implement. Additionally, encourage your employees to separate their professional and personal profiles where necessary.

6. Make it brief but flexible

It’s tempting to try to create a massive, 30-page document outlining every possible situation on social media and how employees should act. But guess what? That’s self-defeating for two key reasons. One, nobody is going to read a boring 30-page document. Two, social media is constantly evolving. As soon as you think you’ve covered everything possible, a new social media use case will appear.

So, focus more on common sense principles – and keep it brief. For example, popular retailer Adidas has a simple, two-page document. It focuses on common sense principles. For example, you have to be careful about non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality agreements on social media – if you have a super-secret product about to launch, you don’t want your employees posting Instagram photos of it!

7. Provide guidelines on dealing with crises

Sooner or later, your company will have to deal with a social media crisis. And you will want your employees to know how to deal with it. For example, some companies designate a single person to be the point of contact for any social media crisis. Others tell their employees to respond immediately to any crisis. Adidas, for example, tells its employees that they have to be “the first to respond to a mistake.” The goal, of course, is to contain any fire so that it doesn’t become a conflagration.

8. Make it count!

Finally, if you’re going to implement these rules, make sure they’re actually rules. It’s a policy, not a suggestion. There should be proper ramifications for breaching it.

At the same time, employers need to be reasonable and think about the intent when it comes to employee’s social media posts. Think about if they meant purposeful harm to the business or another employee, or if it was just a one-off lapse in judgment. Think about if they’re intentionally trying to harm the business, and be a bit reasonable in your application.

Social media in the workplace doesn’t have to be a terrifying thing. All you need to do is put the right time and effort into developing a social media policy that works. Remember – your goal is not to list every possible contingency, it’s to provide a framework for action.

Having a social media policy is part of the new digital world business owners must come to grips with. It is better to have something in place than to run into an issue and implement one in hindsight. Consider having a social media policy in order to nip any issues in the bud, and to set clear boundaries for as your business, and social media in general, grows.

Gohar Malik
Gohar Malik

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