December 3, 2014

Can You Legally Enforce Social Media Policy In The Workplace?

Social media is a double-edged sword: it brings tremendous power and far-reaching impact, but if left unsupervised, it can turn into a real privacy nightmare for your company. Because of this, a business must have some measures in place when it comes to social media. There two risks that have to be addressed:

  1. managing corporate social media accounts;
  2. managing how your employees use social media, on and off work.

We advise that every company have clear guidelines and a set of principles when it comes to these issues. While states have yet to enact legislation that is consistent across the country, you can easily draft a SMP or a Social Media Policy document. This will go a long way toward protecting your company’s public image.

Why is a Social Media Policy important for your business?

When social media hits the fan.  photo credit: Leo Hidalgo (@yompyz)

When social media hits the fan.
photo credit: Leo Hidalgo (@yompyz)

An SMP establishes guidelines and rules for social media use inside and outside your company. In addition to this it includes mitigation procedures for situations when these guidelines are broken. Don’t kid yourself – sooner or later, as Murphy’s Law states, something will go wrong. Keep in mind that the SMP is not just a descriptive document for your organization – it’s also a legal tool that has both proactive and defensive functions.

Having a Social Media Policy allows your company to be proactive on issues such as:

  • Guidelines for content creators. What is considered sensitive or restricted content.
  • Who will be held accountable for social media published content.
  • Chain of command and the role each employee has.
  • Security procedures (strong password rules, password sharing and so on)
  • Monitoring all social media streams – posts, feeds, comments and articles.
  • Interacting with the public.
  • Respecting the privacy of individuals.

A SMP allows your company to be defensive by:

  • Establishing that employee statements and other views are individual and do not make your company responsible for them.
  • Having a contingency plan when things go wrong.

Now would be a good idea to look at what can go wrong with social media, especially as it relates to a company.

Social Media Disasters

It’s not uncommon to see vacancies for full-time social media jobs. Nowadays, managing multiple social accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and others can be its own job. However you should not forget that the person that is responsible for this task needs to be managed as well. If you don’t have a Social Media Policy in place, all that unrestricted access to social accounts can prove extremely risky to your business’ public image. Misuse of an account or a mistake can happen with every person – regardless if it’s an intern or an executive.

Stories of social media horror stories abound. British entertainment retailer HMV, lost its Twitter account to an employee after news of layoffs inside the company spread. The employee had created the account on her own when she was still an intern and she was the only one who had access to the password. What resulted was a storm of negative publicity when she tweeted about the company’s layoff plans live to over 60 thousand followers.

Some would be inclined to opt for the quick fix of a social media company that specializes in this type of work. However, delegating a task to a 3rd party does not guarantee that guidelines will be respected. In fact, some of the more known cases of social media mismanagement come from agencies that were tasked to handle accounts for multi-million brands.

That is why we recommend that you hire a lawyer to draft a SMP for your organization. Regardless if your social media needs are met in-house or outsourced, such a policy will prevent any unintentional mistakes from happening – or if they’ve already happened – to be able to distance yourself from the mess that has been created.

Always Remove An-Exployee’s Social Media Access

It may sound like common sense, but revoking the social media access of an employee that is about to be terminated or has been terminated can reduce further headaches down the line. There have been cases of spiteful workers who refused to share the passwords to social media accounts. Courts have already weighed in when it comes to ownership of social media contacts however they will always check to see what the company’s current social media and corporate policies were. When drafting your SMP, it is crucial to state that your company will own all social media accounts. This is also important for companies that have branded employee accounts which post on behalf of the company.

Policing Personal Social Media Accounts

Controlling your employees’ personal use of social media during and outside work hours is also essential as social media provides an irresistible distraction for most, if not all, people. Having corporate principles on the amount of “socializing” that is allowed during work hours will curb the decrease in productivity and will also help prevent any rogue “off-hours” posts to be sensationalized by the media. Having clear guidelines and rules on what, when and how your employees engage on social media will protect you from unseen problems.

Does every company need a SMP?

Here are a couple of factors to consider whether you need a SMP or not.

  1. Employees Gone Rogue

    There are many stories of employees’ personal comments, Facebook posts or Instagram images causing headaches for corporations. The fast-food industry is rife with examples of employees posting images of themselves doing “unsanitary acts” behind the counter. A smart employer will instruct all employees on their personal social media behavior, as well as promote and incentivize proper social media behavior.

  2.  Internet – The New Water Cooler

    Where as employees congregated around the office water cooler to discuss and vent about workplace issues, the Internet has now become the new water cooler where employees have the power to do so. A well-thought SMP will have guidelines regarding such public discussions – without preventing the right to discuss workplace issues in a private setting. This applies to everyone, including unionized employees. The law has authority over all kinds of workplace discussion, venting and ranting – regardless if you’re part of a union or not.

  3. Sharing Is Not Caring

    As social creatures, we love to share information. A lot. Statistics show that over 2 billion of the world’s population is active one way or another on social media, with 74% of these people being adults. Since social media is so widespread, it’s very likely that your employees are already present on social media. That is why having a SMP in place will prevent and protect your company’s image in case something goes wrong.