13 Tips For Developing A Social Media Policy For Employees

Angela Kambouris

Social media is ingrained in our culture. There is no escaping it, including in our workplaces. Social media is a valuable business tool to connect with colleagues, clients, and partners, promote your company brand, and expand on your marketing voice. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 77% of workers reported they use social media while on the job, yet only 32% of employees say their employers have any rules about how they present themselves on the internet. 

Your Social Media Policy must be a living document. An up-to-date, straightforward, and honest system where acceptable use and not, of various social media platforms have been defined. A powerful tool, when used correctly, can encourage your company to use it to its full potential. 

As the online paradigm continues to evolve and mature, there are new opportunities for personal expression, which also creates new responsibilities. Irrespective of title, temporary, contract, or freelance workers, as you bring new people into your company, they all need to be aware of your policy and how it applies to them. 

Developing a Social Media Policy can seem overwhelming, and certain practices must be kept in mind when writing or revising your company's policy.

Here are 13 things to consider as you create (or update) a Social Media Policy for your employees:

1. Why You Need One

Companies of all sizes across all sectors must develop a Social Media Policy as a starting point of reminding people to use common sense. Employees must understand that online activity can have consequences for an entire company. 

A Social Media Policy must define the purpose of the document as part of your company strategy, whether it be relevant to marketing, recruitment, or company branding.

2. What Platforms Constitute Social Media

Social media is a vast place, so you must be specific about what you are referring to within the policy. When defining social media platforms, consideration must be given to social networking sites, video and photo-sharing sites, micro-blogging sites, and online forums. It must include electronic applications such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and smartwatches. Be clear about the social media platforms – Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, chat rooms, messaging apps – that you describe within your policy.

3. Employee Engagement

Employees must have input right from the beginning of drafting a policy. Whether it be organizing an internal committee, including the voice of staff, sending out anonymous surveys, it is critical to encourage staff to take ownership of developing and leading the policy.

4. Keep The Policy Front Of Mind By All

A great time to introduce your Social Media Policy to employees is during your employee onboarding process and during periodic meetings with your employees. The policy must be the front and center at each phase of the employment relationship, included in the employment contract, through induction and reinforced with ongoing discussions and training by using case studies. 

5. Answer The Tough Questions

There are a lot of grey areas in social media; hence, why the policy must address:

  • What are the responsibilities of employees when it comes to both the company's social media and their accounts?
  • Who has access to social media in the workplace?
  • How will it be monitored?
  • What are the consequences of breaching company guidelines?

6. Be Clear About Legal, Security Risks, And Protecting Confidential Information

No company wants its people to post any confidential and proprietary information from being shared online. People must be informed about what "good judgment" looks like and be clear that they will be held accountable for inappropriate actions or comments online.

Sometimes innocent posts can contain potentially confidential or secure information about a company, its employees, or its clients. Your policy must address such breaches to avoid costly mishaps.

Ford Motor Company developed Digital Participation Guidelines that focused on five core principles to ensure that employees would take into consideration when posting. They are:

  • Be honest about who you are
  • Be clear that your opinions are your own
  • Be respectful and have humility in all communication
  • Use sound judgment in sharing only public information
  • Be aware that what you say is permanent

7. Provide Examples

The policy must articulate what constitutes 'unacceptable use of social media.' By providing examples of acceptable and unacceptable standards, employees' can understand their legal obligations when using social media. For instance, your policy can include bullying, discrimination, and harassment legislation that applies both inside and outside the workplace.

Coca-Cola developed online social media principles to convey the company's vision and strategy around social media use for business purposes. They identified 5 Core Social Media Company Commitments of transparency, protection, respect, responsibility, and monitoring in how people interact with the public and each other through social media. They defined the company's expectations of personal use of social media, the expectations of the company spokespeople, and translated the policy in over 20 languages. 

8. Authenticity Is Critical

IBM developed Social Computing Guidelines to provide a foundation for blogs and social computing, making it clear that activities in or outside of work that adversely affect IBM job performance, the performance of others, or IBM's business interests are a pertinent focus for the company policy. Within IBM guidelines, they made it abundantly clear that all employees must:

  • Respect your audience and co-workers, given most company's hold a diverse range of employees and clients that have a variety of customs, values, and points of view. Be yourself and do so respectfully.
  • Always add value, primarily when it benefits your colleagues, clients, or partners to do their jobs and solve problems and improves products, processes, policies.

9. Watch Your P's & Q's

No brand wants employees to use obscene or vulgar language about a company in social media posts or comments. Instead, it is imperative to define terms, provide examples, and use approved styles. Within the Social Media Policy, a company must provide examples of prohibited conduct and offensive language. For instance, any comment or post that displays comments about co-workers, supervisors, or the company that is threatening, intimidating, harassing, or a violation of a company's workplace policies will warrant further company intervention. 

All employees must receive training on the policy and sign an understanding and agreement of the system, including any disciplinary action that may be taken if they are in breach of the policy. 

10. Set Clear Expectations

By setting out the expectations within the Social Media Policy, you are implementing clear boundaries that include conduct in the workplace and out-of-hours. Here are some expectations that may be beneficial to include within the policy or as a checklist as part of implementation:

  • Define what is appropriate and reasonable usage of social media in the workplace
  • When an employee can use social media at work, explain how this relates to productivity
  • What company information can and cannot be shared to protect data and sensitive information
  • Who is subject to the policy?
  • Reference to other company policies and links this to social media usage
  • A guide on social media outside of the workplace and work hours that could be associated with the company, employees or clients
  • The company's response to breaches of the policy including disciplinary action or even termination
  • Identify the principal risk which you as an employer are concerned about
  • Make employees aware of the rules and expectations for social media set by the employer
  • Outline what information is monitored and how
  • Confirm confidentiality obligations apply to social media use
  • Make employees aware that publicly displayed comments reflecting negatively on the company or individuals in the workplace may constitute unacceptable conduct even if posted outside of work hours
  • Explain consequences for breaching the policy clearly, such as any breach may be subject to disciplinary action, which may include termination of employment.
  • Employees are legally liable for what they post online, and the liability may extend to the employer
  • An employer can take legal action against an employee for defamation
  • Refer to the possibility for social media use to breach other workplace policies such as sexual harassment and anti-discrimination

Edmunds Inc., for example, created a unique social media guidelines in the form of an infographic that provides clear information for employees while representing the company culture. This user-friendly approach captures the five key elements: 

  • Be smart in what you say and do
  • Be genuine
  • Be honest
  • Protect the company's private information
  • Be respectful

11. After-Hours Work

When it comes to outside work hours and people being held accountable for online actions, these are essential questions to ask and include within a policy:

  • Has the online conduct (identifying and making inappropriate online comments) affected or damaged the relationship between the employer and employee? 
  • Has the conduct impacted the employee's work performance?
  • Has the conduct affected the brand or reputation of the employer? 
  • Has the employee identified the employer on their social media account or disclosed any confidential information?
  • Has the employee made disparaging or unfavorable comments online about the employer or other employees?

If yes to any of the above questions, then you may consider investigating the out-of-hours conduct and determine the next steps in line with your code of conduct or social media policy.

12. Work Equipment Is Not Immune

Be specific within the Social Media Policy and advise employees there is no expectation of privacy when they use company equipment, including electronic devices. A company has and reserves the right to monitor and review all use of company-owned equipment without notice, including posts or comments on social media.

13. Embed The Policy

Having the perfect Social Media Policy is only half the battle in ensuring that your people conduct themselves in a manner congruent with your company values. The system must be communicated and embedded within the company. Your policy won't represent anything if your people are not clear about their responsibilities and the expectations around their behavior.

Boeing is another example where the company rolled out its personal use expectations in its ethical business conduct guidelines for employees and then incorporated the requirements into training.

With A Clear Social Media Policy, Everyone Benefits

A present-day policy must be viewed as a framework that will support people to use social media to its full potential. Keeping the Social Media Policy updated is imperative, like digital technology, and social media are here to stay and evolve quickly, alongside laws and regulations, change with time. 

Your Social Media Policy must be available to all your employees, training must be delivered, and discussions about it must be regular to ensure it is valid. Rather than police your employee's use of social media, encourage them to use it productively. 

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