Last month, we discussed some things to think about when using social media in connection with hiring and reviewing employees. This post continues the social media trend, this time discussing the importance of a social media policy for your company, and highlighting key considerations in light of current law.
Why Have a Social Media Policy?
It is nearly impossible not to have an online presence in today’s market. But if not properly managed, social networking can create potential liability for a business. A social media policy is your company’s internal control for protecting the organization’s existence online. It guides employees on what is acceptable when interacting in the virtual world, and maintains clear messaging for the business. A good social media policy recognizes the reality that social networking is here to stay and can be an asset for the business when used properly. By having clear expectations for employees in the form of a written policy, the business can more effectively utilize this tool.
Developing a Social Media Policy: Where to Start
When considering a unified social media policy for your organization, a good place to start is with the big picture. Think strategically about how social media will play a part in the organization’s business plan. Get key players in your organization in a room to think about the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of social media engagement for the business. Once you’ve got an idea about your goals for social media use, you can get down to developing a policy to help encourage these goals and provide guidance during implementation. You can also brainstorm potential issues that might arise, and think about what kinds of boundaries are needed to help avoid those concerns before they become problems.
Developing a Social Media Policy: General Considerations
Consider developing two basic policies for social media use in your organization. One focuses on how to manage the organization’s own social media accounts and presence, as well guidance on posts made on behalf of the organization. The other provides employees with direction on posting on their own personal profiles when doing so impacts the organization. Why two policies? Both are important, but they each have different objectives. While the organization’s policy helps with branding and clear, appropriate messaging, the employee-specific policy ensures that individual employees are not reflecting poorly on the organization or disclosing information they shouldn’t.
To this end, here are a few points to consider when developing these policies:
1. Will employees be restricted from using personal social networking accounts while at work? Some companies want to limit how much time their employees spend on social networking sites while on the clock. The policy can address this aspect of social media use, and also whether the company will monitor usage if company equipment is used.
2. What is considered proper online conduct, both for employees and the organization as a whole? Explain the do's and don’ts of social media use, both for official company accounts and for employees’ personal accounts. Explain how violation of the policy can result in discipline, up to termination. While there may be only so much your company can control with regards to individual employee accounts, you can set boundaries during work time and can regulate what employees say when acting on behalf of the business. Be clear about accountability for online participation.
3. Are there guidelines for what can or cannot be shared? You may want to consider confidential or proprietary information restrictions, or prohibit posting personal information about clients, for example. Make sure to be clear, but also consider legal compliance as explained below.
4. Who will have authority to post on behalf of the organization? Be clear about the positions that have authority to speak on behalf of the organization and who has responsibility for content on the business’s official social media accounts. For other employees, consider explaining how employees can differentiate their own opinions from those of the company’s, such as through a disclaimer.
5. Is there a contingency plan for common issues that may arise? While it is impossible to predict all the ways things can go awry online, have you accounted for what to do if a retraction needs to be made, or if an employee posts something inappropriate? What about if the account is compromised?
Don’t Forget Legal Compliance
Providing practical guidance in a social media policy is important, but it is equally key that the policy be legally compliant. One of the most important considerations here are the limitations imposed by federal labor law: the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), as interpreted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Generally, the NLRA gives most employees the right to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment (think workplace conditions, wages, etc.), and they can’t be disciplined for engaging in this activity. Companies often get into trouble when their social media policies infringe on those rights, particularly if an employee is fired for violating a policy the NLRB considers overly restrictive.
The NLRB publishes guidance for employers in the form of General Counsel Memos. These memos detail the results of investigations into social media cases and are helpful to consider when developing the policies. Visit the NLRB’s website for more information on these resources: https://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/fact-sheets/nlrb-and-social-media.
In addition to the NLRB, it is also important to address other legal issues like compliance with other federal, state and local laws, copyright restrictions, privacy considerations, and the like. Once you have a policy drafted, you may consider having an attorney perform a legal review to make sure you’ve complied with your jurisdiction’s rules and regulations.
Developing a written social media policy is a good step toward streamlining your business’s online presence. Taking proactive steps to get such a policy in place is time well spent.