Should Your Company Have a Social Media Policy?

by Kerry O'Shea Gorgone

Email subscriptions, increasing email subscribers to your blog, rss, feedburnerBy now, most companies use social media as part of their marketing mix, but only 63% have implemented a social media policy according to a 2014 study from Protiviti.

Jay Shepherd has suggested that organizations adopt a very simple, two-word policy relating to employee blogging (which he’s since extended to social media): “Be professional.”

I might double this in size and suggest “don’t be a moron,” although the results should be largely the same.

If you hire the right people (professional non-morons), their use of social media should not expose you to an inordinate amount of risk. In some instances, having a policy could cause problems you didn’t have before.

For instance, most employees are “at-will,” meaning they can be fired at any time for almost any legal, non-discriminatory reason. However, if you adopt a social media policy, then use that as the basis for firing someone, that employee might appeal their termination to the National Labor Relations Board.

Depending on the nature of their social media offense, they might be able to have their termination declared illegal. Posts complaining about working conditions, for instance, are protected according to the NLRB.

You now have a problem you didn’t have before, and even if you ultimately win the argument, you will lose money and time in the process.

If you do elect to formalize a social media policy, there are examples from which you could draw. (See 5 Great Corporate Social Media Policy Examples.)

Here are some provisions you’ll want to include.

What “social media” means.
Everyone has a slightly different idea of what is or isn’t covered. Most people would assume the policy covers Twitter and Facebook, but what else? Pinterest, for example, is a “taste graph,” technically speaking, and not a social network, but clearly it has social elements. Does your policy apply to Pinterest? Online forums? Comments on third-party sites or blogs? Define what’s included, but try and leave room for the evolution of new social networks and platforms. You don’t want to edit the policy every time a start-up gets funded!

A caution against sharing confidential information.
Explain what kinds of company information are confidential and should not be shared via social media, email, or other channels (client data, upcoming plans, trade secrets, other intellectual property, etc.). Take care not to be too broad in your phrasing: if your policy might apply to employees discussing working conditions or wages among themselves, it’s very likely that the NLRB would not enforce it.

A statement against speaking as the company’s official representative (unless you are the company’s official representative)
If your company is large, name the point-person (or position title) responsible for fielding certain kinds of inquiries.For instance, media inquiries should be directed to the Director of Public Relations, customer service inquiries should be directed to any member of the Customer Service department, employment inquiries go to the Human Resources Coordinator, etc.

However you want the workflow to go, specify it in your policy. Explain the protocol for crisis communications, as well. Otherwise, loyal employees might make well-intentioned posts that reveal information before the company’s ready, or else misstate the situation because you don’t yet have all the facts.

Specify who is authorized to speak on behalf of the company during a crisis situation, and consider assigning someone different for each type of crisis (your CFO for a financial issue, CMO for a social media gaffe, CEO for a general organizational crisis, etc.).

No anonymous posting
It’s natural for employees to feel protective of your brand: ideally, they are your biggest fans. However, employees posting anonymously in response to negative reviews or comments about your company will ultimately do more harm than good, because the identity of the commenter always comes to light sooner or later.

Let your employees know that if they speak publicly about your brand, they must use their own identity and disclose their relationship with your company.

State who owns your brand’s social channels
This should be an easy one. If someone at your company creates an official presence online, anywhere other than your site, the company owns it. Specify that any profiles or pages created by employees in their official capacity on behalf of the company are company-owned.

Require all online accounts be opened using a company email address (ideally, or something similar, so you can easily reset the passwords and restrict access if an employee leaves the company.

Clearly explain the consequences of violating the policy
This is the “or what?” If you tell employees they can’t do something, they need to know what happens if they do it.Typically, you’d want to extend the penalties for “real world” offenses to social media, as well. If calling another employee a “whore” offline would result in firing, the same should be true for an online posting.

Explain which person or department is in charge of enforcing the policy, and what procedures you will have in place for appealing decisions.

Overall, the benefits of implementing a social media policy outweigh the risks, because they help to clarify what’s expected of everyone involved.

Do consider the appeal of a four-word policy, though: most of the time, “don’t be a moron” just about covers it.

Kelly Hungerford May 22, 2014 at 10:23 am

Kerry this is a really nice guideline. I’m happy to see consequences listed.

I’ve been asked to review a couple of guidelines and neither of them spoke about consequences, “whoops”, or more serious side of responsibility. I had the impression the guidelines were almost tilted towards trying to get employees on board as advocates — get them posting!, and not so much as a “hey, this is serious and this is what you need to know”.

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone May 22, 2014 at 10:29 am

Thanks, Kelly! There’s always more to consider, but I wanted to give businesses a start, at least! A 3,000-word post probably wouldn’t be enough.

Chris Craft May 22, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Love me some Kerry. Great job! Very important stuff.

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone May 22, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Thanks, Chris!

Jishu James May 30, 2014 at 6:23 am

It is the great question about all companies because we never ever ignore nowadays the power and live traffic which coming from Social media. Nice article and Good job Kerry God Bless you!

wscubeseo June 5, 2014 at 2:39 am

This is an important guideline, great to know about this. Thanks kerry

Altaf Gilani June 25, 2014 at 3:02 am

These tech tips are really amazing.Thanks for sharing!

Crypto June 25, 2014 at 9:47 am

The simple answer to the question is yes, however I believe a policy should be something that their PR / Marketing company should deal with, in relation to their HR for special cases. In addition, companies should definitely have an emergancy plan for all situations.
For example, the recent dogecoin community (At /r/dogecoin) started to launch a “social” attack on the company Ultra Pro for trademarking the term, “Doge”. The company handled the situation before it blew up and that is mainly by engaging with the audience within less than 24 hours. Social media is a powerful tool that all companies should harness, but with moderation. Self regulation is key.

Harish Kumar July 22, 2014 at 12:33 am

Hey Kerry sir,
Thank you very much for sharing most important linguine and tech tips are really amazing….

Jonathan July 25, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Excellent tips. I am very interesting to read. I really love to read such a nice article.

Ignite Social Media in San Diego July 26, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Social Media is another way to communicate i.e email, telephone and fax. I presume most companies do not hire morons that cannot be trusted and the issue with social media is what people do with it. Yes I know there will be a few people within the company who are not trustworthy but why penalize the many who are? Usually companies already have a policy that conduct inappropriate behavior anyways.

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