The Minefield of Social Media Policies

An important business that is often missing, is a social media policy. And crafting one is difficult.

An important business that is often missing, is a social media policy. And crafting one is difficult. There needs to be a balance between business needs and employee rights. Thankfully, expert advice on navigating your way through this minefield is available.

Your Business Needs a Policy

People on social media networks often talk about their professional and personal lives. And not always in a responsible or appropriate manner. This is why your business needs a social media policy. It’s important you give your employees some guidelines about what they can or cannot post. Because without those guidelines, unauthorized and/or inappropriate comments could:

  • Land your business in legal trouble
  • Damage its reputation in the marketplace
  • Create negative publicity
  • Reveal a weakness in business security, enticing cyberattacks
  • Negatively impact your competitive advantage if proprietary information is leaked online

What Goes Into a Social Media Policy?

A typical IT policy outlines what employees should and shouldn’t do in particular situations. But that’s not as straight forward when it comes to a Social Media policy. Stating what employees should and shouldn’t do is more difficult, because there’s no way to know what particular situations might arise.

Any social media policy needs to consider and employees’ legal rights. This is further complicated by the fact that laws regarding social media are still in the process of being interpreted.

Experts’ Recommendations

Because a social media policy differs greatly to other IT policies, writing one is also difficult. Experts offer the following recommendations:

Always consider employees’ legal rights. Your policy needs to balance the needs of your business with the rights of your employees, specific to the laws of the country your business operates within. For example, in the US, if your social media policy states employees cannot post disparaging comments about their companies or their management, you’re violating employee rights.

Some experts suggest to go beyond keeping employee rights in mind, and include a description of the types of online activities that are protected by law. This can be followed by a statement noting that the policy does not intend to interfere with those rights in any way.

Know what social media activities are not protected by law. Again, any activity you include in this section of your social media policy will depend on the country in which you do business. For example, social media activities that might subject employees to disciplinary action include threats of violence or comments that are racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory.

Encourage Common Sense When Posting Online. Asking employees to post responsibly helps them meet your company’s needs whilst still preserving their legal rights. Social media expert Brian Honigman writes, “By giving your employees enough latitude to trust their own instincts and communicating that you trust and rely on their good judgment, they will not feel like they are being forced to do anything and will instead feel personally responsible to represent the company sensibly.”

Mind the Jargon. Even though a social media policy must have a level of legal compliance, it must also be easy to read and understand. This increases the likelihood that employees will follow the guidelines in the policy.

Refer to social media policies written by others. The Social Media Governance website has a large database of social media policies for review. Have a read of the guidelines written by Cisco, IBM, and Intel.

Do you need more than one policy? Does your business’ marketing dept. use social media? You might need to consider writing two policies. A guide for employees who use social media as part of their work role, and a guide for employees when using social media in a personal role.

Get it reviewed. Social media policies need contain legal references, so it’s a good idea to have a legal professional review your policy. And make sure they’re suitably experienced with Social media laws. It’s true that a legal review can be expensive, but so too is facing a lawsuit.

Posted on