Don’t make me say it again, folks: you NEED a social media policy to protect the reputation of your business. Check out these tips to learn how to create an effective social media policy.
A few years ago, I attended a seminar at UW-Milwaukee, hoping for help crafting an employee manual for my non-profit employer. The two things I took from that seminar (that have come up time and time again) are: 1. Keep your policies simple, minimal and to the point; and 2. Always have your manual reviewed by a lawyer. When it comes to your company’s social media policy, the advice is no different. It is far better to have simple, clear rules in place than complicate things with “if this…then that” scenarios. We all know that, in the workplace as in life, it is impossible to imagine everything that could happen and predict the outcomes. (Otherwise, we’d all be in Las Vegas right now.)
Policies should cover ALL members of your staff, including employees, volunteers, interns, management and the CEO. In the worst case scenario, ANY electronic device used to access work information (from your personal iPhone to your home computer) can be subpoenaed and confiscated. Letting employees know this up front is important. In the same vein, personal information that is accessed from company-owned computers, handhelds and other devices is now proprietary to the company. If you don’t want employees to access social media, personal email or their personal blog from work, then the policy should specify that. In this day and age, the lines between personal and professional information is often blurred. Employees work from home, and your boss might text you on vacation.
The line needs to be drawn. Company information and work should be accessed and stored on company-owned devices. Personal information should be accessed and stored on personal devices. It’s really that simple.
When employees are accessing your company’s online profile (your website, your Facebook page, etc), they need to have specific guidelines to follow. There should be a clear policy that states that all online information about the business or organization belongs to the company. State the obvious: profanity, racism, sexism and unprofessional online behavior will not be tolerated, and is grounds for dismissal. Period.
Employees who update your blog, website or Facebook page need to have clear-cut guidelines. This cannot be stressed enough. Take time on the front end to set up a strategic plan for your company’s online presence. (For example, the number of blog posts, the tone of your Facebook posts, and that all types of posts must be proofread and signed off on by management, even if you’re stretched for time.) This alone will save you loads of time and money, and prevent many headaches in the long run. The cost of “cleaning up” a website, or attempting the impossible task of undoing an online mistake can be akin to putting toothpaste back in the tube. While these guidelines don’t need to be in your policy, your policy should refer to them and ask that all employees follow the guidelines when acting as the voice of your company online.
As you formulate your policy, you need to ask yourself how you want your employees to appear online. If you are in a high-security position, perhaps you don’t want employees to identify themselves on Facebook or other social media. Consider some of the recent political scandals and crimes. The news media is very savvy at quickly finding out details, which almost always include that subject’s Facebook profile, Twitter account, and any other online presence. If the unthinkable happens, and an employee does something criminal, would you want them associated with your business? This can especially be of concern for schools, religious organizations, security-based organizations, or businesses in the financial sector.
If instead, you’re in a communications-based industry, where networking and relationship building is key, then you may want to allow employees to identify their employer online. In this case, having a line in the policy that outlines appropriate behavior, stresses confidentiality, and suggests maintaining a positive online presence would be enough.
Seek Legal Advice
It may seem like paranoia or overkill, but instead, think of legal advice as insurance. Your employee manual or any company policies should always be glanced over by a lawyer. Many colleges and organizations offer services to small businesses and non-profits that cannot afford major legal council. These services are relatively inexpensive and can preserve your company integrity (not to mention your sanity). This also cannot be stressed enough. Before hiring an employee, and especially before you ask your new hire to sign anything, run it by a lawyer.
One of the biggest considerations when it comes to privacy, (as I stated in my last post) is whether the employer notified the employee of the perimeters of web use, and if the employee was aware of monitoring policies. Again, employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to company email or equipment, and each employee must be made aware of this fact. Write a simple policy, have it legally reviewed and then make sure your employees sign off on it. Think of it as an insurance policy for your web presence.