HR: Why Social Media Policy Matters More Than Ever

Social media has been around for a while now. In fact, social media applications have never been more mainstream than they are today. Facebook, not surprisingly, is the big winner, with nearly three-quarters of American adults liking and posting and sharing daily—a number that jumps to a staggering 82 percent when you pinpoint the 18–29-year-old age range. Then you have the rapid growth of the visual-sharing social platforms: Video is on a fast climb to the top when it comes to social media popularity, and if you haven’t already, you should familiarize yourself with Instagram Video, Facebook Live, and Snapchat.

So, you would assume most of those users have a relatively firm grasp of what is considered appropriate in social media sharing, right? Wrong. In fact, you couldn’t BE more wrong. Consider the Emmy award winning TV anchor fired for her racially insensitive Facebook post. Or the Ohio school bus driver fired for posting a selfie—while on her bus—purporting to show her drinking from a beer bottle.”

Not convinced? How about the Texas teen who tweeted herself out of a pizzeria job after her boss saw her less than enthusiastic tweets (complete with ‘thumbs down’ emojis)? And then, in what might be the most head-shaking, “Just what were you thinking?” social media sharing story yet—there’s the Buffalo police officer suspended without pay for posting Vine videos cracking jokes about enjoying illicit drugs from the evidence room. He even wore his uniform in some of them!

Social Media Self-Sabotage

Sadly, stories like these are just the tip of the iceberg. You can barely turn around these days without tripping over posts where disgruntled employees use social media to complain about how much money they (don’t) make, moan about their day-to-day workload, or comment inappropriately about the latest hot topic news story or global catastrophe.

You might think “Oh, well, employee fired, end of story – not going to affect my business, my reputation or my earnings.” Wrong again. There are myriad stories of companies whose employees have made epic social media missteps on behalf of their employer..

A large corporation tweeting about scones and other “comforting” breakfast foods, post-Boston Marathon bombing? It’s been done. A highly stylized image of the Challenger space shuttle disaster, posted on July 4th weekend? Done. A company trying (and failing wildly) to capitalize on a trending hashtag about domestic violence by tweeting “#WhyIStayed—You had pizza!” Sigh. Yes. Also done.

That said, I’ve written before about the benefits of using social media, especially for your recruitment and hiring: Increased candidate diversity, higher employee retention, higher candidate volume and, lower costs per hire, to name just a few.

So the last thing I want is for anyone to be afraid—the goal is to avoid social media missteps and digital brand failures. And, the easiest and most effective way you can do that is by having an up- to-date (and regularly updated) company-wide social media policy in place.

Social Media Policy Particulars

The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) has been weighing in on social media policies for a few years now, with mixed “reviews,” for lack of a better term. I am not a labor lawyer, so I advise everyone to do some Google searches, and read about the NLRB’s stance when it comes to individual corporate social media policies. Here’s a good place to start.

Aside from the NLRB, you also have to take into consideration the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), whose mission is “To prevent business practices that are anti-competitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers.” It all comes down to kindergarten—play fair, folks. Consider relationships and disclosure as the golden rules of social media engagement. As writes, “…relationships must be disclosed so that people know which information is coming from a competitor or affiliate of a competitor. If you are paid by a brand and then endorse a product or service, that should also be disclosed.”

Here are a few areas you must be considerate of when you are checking over and updating your social media policy, so as not to run afoul of the FTC.

Online reviews and comments: Your employees must never post negative comments or reviews of your competition’s goods and services without first disclosing where they work. This is called astroturfing, and is, unfortunately, a somewhat common occurrence—until companies get caught, that is, as Samsung did a few years back.

Blogging: Any time you receive a product or service for free from another company, or if you have affiliate partnerships with another company, and you write about or mention them in an article, you must disclose these relationships or risk hefty fines. The FTC has published a guide which has “…set forth the general principles that the Commission will use in evaluating endorsements and testimonials, together with examples illustrating the application of those principles.” You can read it here.

Online Advertising: Is it crystal clear your ads are ads? Do you make every effort to ensure it’s crystal clear? If you don’t, you might get your knuckles rapped.

The takeaway from the above? Number one—play fair, and number two, remember that it’s YOUR responsibility to ensure your employees are fully versed in the rules of disclosure. And, that you actively have taken steps to train them. A quick read of a companywide email is not enough.
Social Media Policies: Some Quick Considerations
Social media policies vary from company to company, and industry to industry, but there are a few “building blocks” that you should use to create the foundation of your corporate guidelines.

Your employees don’t have the same level of knowledge: Never assume. We all know how that usually ends up, and it’s never good. Just because Sarah is a Millennial, who works in marketing and Joe is a boomer toiling away on the factory floor, don’t assume that Joe knows nothing about social media, and Sarah is the digital native. Your social media policy should be part of a company-wide training plan, and you must include everyone on your staff.

Clearly map out your expectations for your corporate social channels: What might be acceptable content for a Tweet might be the last thing you want to see posted on your company LinkedIn page. You might have (and allow) more fun on Facebook, but require your Twitter account to remain a space for courting influencers—ergo slightly higher-level. It is your responsibility to use precise language to describe all of your social media platforms, and what the expectations are for each when it comes to posting corporate content.

Map out productivity expectations: Laying the hammer down when it comes to social media usage while on the job simply won’t work in today’s digital age. That said, you should lay out clear expectations as to how much “on the job” social media activity is acceptable, and where you will draw the line. Responsible employees who regularly hit deadlines and make good on deliverables should not be penalized for a bit of mid-day chatter online.

Privacy and confidentiality: And, perhaps most importantly, consult your legal team, and cross your Ts and dot your Is, when it comes to company privacy and confidentiality concerns. Your employees need to know what information is considered proprietary, what they can and can’t share when it comes to corporate performance or working conditions. Those guidelines must be crystal clear. And again, as I mentioned above, here’s where it pays to be up to speed on the NLRB’s take on things—sharing information about compensation, working conditions, and manager performance may be considered protected speech that cannot be restricted.

The bottom line is this: None of us want to end up being tomorrow’s front page social media disaster story, but our world today is mobile and digitally driven, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. Social media has become our “town square,” a place where people connect and communicate, sharing intimate details about almost every aspect of their day to day lives. And that includes information about their workdays—the good, the bad, and the ugly. By being proactive rather than reactive, and having sound (and regularly updated) corporate social media policies in place, both you and your employees can feel protected and comfortable when venturing into the online social media space.

What do you think? Do you have a solid social media policy in place? When’s the last time you’ve given it a good once-over? Do your employees have easy access to it? Do you talk to your employees regularly about their social activity, and how it relates to their work? I would love to hear your thoughts.

A version of this was first posted on V3Broadsuite

Photo Credit: via Compfight cc