I’ve just read some interesting research by DLA Piper on the challenges being faced by employers with their employees use of social media. With the changes occurring in social media at such a rapid pace, workplaces are hard pressed to keep their policies in line with these changes. If you are in the process of developing a social media policy, this publication is well worth reading. Even though it is a UK context, the issues are the same internationally.
This is a contentious issue in many places with views ranging from ban all social media and have staff hand in their smart phones to empowering staff to use social media personally to support, promote and be advocates for the business.
Take a moment to think where you sit on this spectrum and why.
In Australia, it is clear. Corrective action or dismissal can only be taken “where there is a clear definition of what is acceptable in the context of social media, and what the consequences are when those conditions are breached.” (Taken from Blands Law “Social Media and Unfair Dismissal Guide for Employers“).
This means you need a clear social media policy. Here are 10 questions to ask as you develop your policy. At the end, there are some resources you may want to follow-up for more guidance. This is not legal advice, but particularly for small business and not-for-profits – this can guide you through the process of developing your policy.
1. What is the purpose of the policy?
What are you hoping to achieve by having a social media policy? Is your main aim to control its use? Are you wanting to articulate who can and can’t post on behalf of the company? Do you want to resource staff to be brand advocates and let them know how they can use social media personally to support your brand? Get clear on the purpose of the policy. A social media policy serves to protect your brand, your employees, your clients or customers and any other stakeholder that engages with your company or organisation.
2. Who are the key stakeholders?
Who needs to be involved in the development of the policy? Is it a top down approach or do you want feedback and contribution from staff? Put a simple process in place that seeks feedback from key stakeholders and lays out a timeline for the policy to be developed, circulated, approved and distributed.
3. Can employees contribute to the social media platforms of the company?
Do you want social media to sit in one area of the company or to be supported by multiple departments/staff? Make sure that approval mechanisms are in place for critical information and that it is clear who posts what type of information within the business. If you are encouraging staff to contribute personally (not as part of their job function) make sure it is clear what they are able to share. Do they need to disclose their relationship with the company in any personal posts?
4. Can employees use social media platforms during work hours for non-work purposes?
This is the biggest concern for most employers. “If I let my staff use social media, will they get any work done?” The reality is that younger workers blur the lines between work and personal life in many ways. They may respond to work emails via their smart phones on
their way to and from work or at home, they may do work at home remotely in the evenings or on weekends and they may want to send a message to a friend via Facebook on a Friday afternoon. Some workplaces focus on developing a culture of trust where they know that it is give and take and by being less restrictive, they actually benefit ten fold from a productivity perspective. Ask yourself the question, can we trust our staff and then take action if this is abused or do we want strict guidelines in place because the risk is too high? Or is there a middle ground?
Whatever your conclusion, ensure that the personal use of social media guidelines are clearly articulated. Disciplinary action cannot be taken unless this is stated in the policy.
5. What constitutes inappropriate behaviour on social media?
The DLA Piper research shows that employees are sharing content on their personal sites ranging from business information, to information about other employees, to criticisms about the business. It is important to articulate what is considered non acceptable behaviour online. You can only take disciplinary action against this behaviour if the guidelines are clearly articulated.
6. How does this policy tie in with bullying and harassment?
The DLA Piper research shows that 21% of employers have given a warning to an employee about posting derogatory comments about a work colleague online. Ensure that your policy refers to and integrates with your other policies about bullying and harassment.
7. How is the issue of copyright approached in your online communications?
Copyright is an increasingly difficult issue in the online world. The same rules of copyright and attribution should be followed online as offline. Ensure that your policy covers the nuances of this in your own industry or business field. Make sure that your staff know when and how to attribute or acknowledge sources as it is your brand that is affected and your business that is responsible.
8. What will the company policy be on responding to criticism?
Don’t wait for someone to publicly criticise your business or brand before deciding how you will respond. Have a response plan articulated so that if this does happen, everyone knows the people responsible for the response and the tone this will take. Some businesses use criticism as an opportunity to engage the customer and resolve their issues, others delete or remove these comments. You need to decide what is right for your business. As a general rule we suggest never deleting comments. An irate customer will take their complaint elsewhere and at least if it is on your platform, you have the opportunity to respond and engage.
9. What is the process for documenting such an event?
You may want to consider creating a Social Media Incident Report like you would have for other incidents that occur in your business. This may include the following:
- Social media platform where incident occurred
- Date/time etc
- Initial comment/post content (insert screen grab?)
- Response given, by whom
- Any follow-up ramifications
- Where does this form go? Who needs to see it?
10. How are you going to embed the policy?
Ensure that you build in training and communications to ensure that your staff understand how they can and can’t use social media both for work purposes and in the work place. This policy is not a stagnant document. It needs regular review and it needs to change and grow as the world of social media does.
There are many other questions that can and should be asked when compiling a social media policy. What are some of the other considerations you have had whilst going through the process? Please share them below so that others can learn from your wisdom and experience.
At the end of it all….. a social media policy is not something you might need. It is essential in any business that has an online presence and staff. Do the work upfront to save complicated legal issues down the track.
Here are some other resources you may find useful:
* An article by Volunteer Match about Social Media Policies for Your Employees and Your Employee Volunteer Program with links to the social media policies of companies such as Coca Cola, Yahoo, HP and Red Cross
* Policy Development and Review: Social Mediology can provide consulting and advice on your social media policy. We do not provide legal advice, but we can help you through the process of developing your policy and engaging key stakeholders along the way. Contact us to find out more.