Why Your Business Needs a Social Media Policy (And What It Should Say)
By: Mike Kissner, Client HR Consultant
A generation ago, if someone had a grievance against their employer, they might grumble to their friends or coworkers, or perhaps bring the issue to HR. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no public disparagement of the business in lieu of a private conversation to resolve a complaint. Companies also didn’t have to worry about staffers sharing controversial personal opinions or confidential information in a global online forum, nor were they concerned about how employees’ time on social media sites could affect their productivity. The dynamics of today’s workplace are a different story, however, and employers need to be proactive about protecting their brand by establishing a comprehensive social media policy.
The Pros and Cons of Social Platforms
The advent of myriad social channels, from LinkedIn to Instagram, has radically transformed the way that businesses engage with their employees and the public at large. Companies can leverage social media to build brand image, develop a following, and connect with customers. However, a gaffe on the part of an employee can tarnish the organization’s reputation or even expose the company to legal issues. Much like having a policy about how media inquiries are handled, a social media policy establishes clear guidelines about the type of behavior that is both expected and allowed as relates to employees’ use of social networks. Here are five best practices for managing social media channels:
- Emphasize the Need for Professionalism. Many companies will review a prospective candidate’s social media profiles before making a job offer, and they trust the employee to uphold a professional image after they are hired. A social media policy should underscore the fact that the individual still represents the business, even when posting on their personal profile, and that controversial comments or opinions can reflect poorly on the company. Likewise, employees should understand that online bad behavior or posts about antics in their personal life could have an impact on their career.
- Keep Workplace Matters Confidential. Information that is confidential or proprietary to the organization should not be disclosed through social networks, including through private messages between friends. Even a vague reference to a pending contract or a possible restructuring can be fodder for competitors or ruffle shareholders’ feathers. Similarly, complaints or concerns about coworkers or issues in the workplace should be directed within the company to Human Resources or a manager, rather than shared on social media. The policy also should note that any employee who stalks or harasses another individual through any social media platform will face strict disciplinary action and possible termination.
- Take Ownership of Opinions. When posting on social networking sites, especially if they are commenting on a matter related to the employer’s industry, employees should specify whether they are expressing their own opinion or that of the company. This policy likewise should apply to blog posts written by an employee, or comments made in response to an online article or essay. Unless writing on behalf of the organization, the employee should add a clarifying statement, such as, “The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of XYZ company.”
- Limit Time Spent on Social Media. Companies should address not only what employees post on social media, but also when and how they access social networking platforms. Time spent on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media forums during business hours can have a dramatic impact on employee productivity and create an ongoing distraction in the workplace. The social media policy should specify the limitations on accessing platforms during the workday, including posting from the employee’s personal mobile device.
Social media can be a powerful tool to strengthen brand image; however, the ability to connect with a global audience is a two-edged sword. Companies should incorporate their social media policy into their onboarding practices, explaining the guidelines and expectations during orientation meetings, and include the policy in the employee handbook. Although many organizations are eager to put a new hire to work as quickly as possible, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to protecting a firm’s reputation and minimizing distractions. Setting clear expectations about behavior and communication through social media sites can prevent potential problems and mitigate risk for both the company and its employees.