Are you empowering your people to surf or are you still trying to control the ocean?
As social media becomes more integrated into our daily life, it is difficult to regulate employees. Too often, businesses shy away from social media. However, businesses fail to realize each employee is creating an impression of your business by what they are saying about you online. In many cases, what your employees say casually might not be the impression you want your company to project. It is easier to have clear guidelines than to try to control every action.
A social media policy is every bit as important to the company as any other policy. In fact, your social media policy should be part of your corporate culture.
The most famous example of this is the seven-word policy used by Zappos: “Be Real and Use Your Best Judgment.” While this policy is too simplistic for most companies, Zappos is able to make it work by incorporating it into every part of their corporate culture.
One employee with a bad attitude or a bad sense of humor can have a negative effect on entire brand or the “personality of your business.” The wrong type of exposure online can ruin anyone’s business.
The best way to protect your business from inappropriate social media exposure is with a social media policy. Here’s what you need to be aware of in order to create a good social media policy.
Identify What is Proprietary Information
Every business has information that cannot be discussed with outsiders. This could be a special process, a secret recipe or client details. A good social media policy will spell out exactly what type of information is confidential and not to be shared.
Make clear that logos, trademarks, company signatures, and company uniforms should not be used in images and posts unless actually speaking for the company.
Infringing on someone else’s copyrights or trademarks should also be discussed. In many cases, people don’t understand that they are infringing. Ignorance is neither an excuse nor a defense.
Spell Out Any Moral Clauses
Many businesses have ‘moral clauses’ in their employment contracts. Be clear about the type of content that is not acceptable to post on the business’ social media sites. What is offensive to your company might not be offensive to your employee.
If your industry deals with children or other special groups, you might have additional clauses in your social media policy.
Designate A Company Spokesperson
A Social Media spokesperson is the go-to person for any questions regarding what is and is not appropriate online. Companies with a designated social media spokespeople find that they have far fewer social media gaffes than those without one.
Encourage People To Be Civil Online
It’s not just what people say online, it’s how they say it. You don’t want an employee to purposely offending others. Encourage people to be civil to others online, even when they disagree with what’s posted.
Some businesses require pre-approval, or two sets of eyes, on responses to negative reviews and other difficult content.
Be Aware Of What’s Protected Speech
It’s common for people to complain about their jobs online. After all, social media is the new water cooler. When a company finds statements such as “I hate my job” or “my boss is a jerk” online, one natural impulse is to fire that employee. So many companies did fire employees for posting negative statements on their personal accounts, in fact, that the courts have ruled some of this as “protected speech.”
There are two kinds of work bashing that are considered protected speech online: venting and discussing.
Venting is loosely defined as someone complaining to let off stream. As long as they don’t give away any proprietary information, or engage in “instigating speech,” employees are permitted to post content in this category without repercussions.
Discussing wages or working conditions with other employees or outsiders in an effort to improve wages and working conditions is considered “union activities,” and is governed by the National Labor Relations Act. This is true even if your business or industry does not have a union.
When and where an employee can post should also be spelled out. Are they allowed to post from work? How about a work related event or retreat?
A rule without a consequence is just a suggestion. The same is true with your social media policy. Without consequences properly spelled out, no one will take your policy seriously.
Are all offenses treated the same? Is one offense enough to be fired or does your company have a “three strikes and you’re out” rule? Whatever the rules, whatever the consequence, make sure your employees know and agree to them.
When social media is used correctly, employees can help spread the word about your company and build your brand. The key to making this happen is to have the right policies in place. A good Social Media Policy will encourage polite, respectful interaction without disclosing confidential information of the company or your clients. A social media policy is not just a nice thing for businesses to have, it’s a necessity.
by Martin Brossman and Karen Tiede
Learn more about their Social Media Management Certificate program:
Special thanks to Mercedes Tabano II for research.