Does Your Business Need a Social Media Policy?

Friday, March 21, 2014

No matter how big or small your business may be, there is only one answer to the question of whether your business needs a social media policy: Yes. Absolutely, yes!


Ok, cool. But what's a social media policy, different from just 'social media'?

Social media policies are essentially codes of conduct outlining how employees are expected to behave on social media sites and online in general.

They may simply provide guidance as to what tone of voice to adopt when using a company’s social media account (or blogs, etc) or perhaps what levels of privacy considerations must be adhered to publicly, with respect to fellow employees, confidential corporate information and, of course, clients.

However, with the lines between employees' private and professional lives becoming so very, very blurred, the provisions in some business’ social media policies may even extend to outlining what behaviour is appropriate on an employee’s own private social media profiles, especially if those accounts can in any way identify them as being connected with the employer’s business.

And, of course, as businesses around the globe are slowly learning, the existence of a social media policy can provide a level of protection for businesses when employees do use those private accounts in a manner that affects your business’ bottom line or reputation.

Company social media accounts

Your business’ social media policy doesn’t have to be long and jam packed with legal jargon and indecipherable, scary sounding prose, but it should set out, unequivocally, what is expected of employees when they use your business’ social media accounts.

It’s impossible to write a social media policy that covers everything, but by putting a level of trust in your employees and by calling on them to use common sense when speaking on behalf of your business, half your battle is already won.

After all, taking a common sense approach logically ensures that they’re never disparaging, rude or abusive; that they never break the law and don’t ever, ever breach the privacy of clients, the company or fellow employees. It ensures they stick to their area of expertise and don’t criticise the company or partake in personal attacks.

Of course, the problem is that common sense, as they say, isn’t all that common, hence the need to specify and remind of such rules.

Other things to consider may include a mention of what can be communicated and what cannot; reminders that the Internet forgets nothing (even if a post is quickly deleted, it may already be cached or re-posted elsewhere); instructions that honesty is always the best policy and, most importantly, that if an employee has any doubts, they should ask someone higher up the food chain! Stress to them that for accountability alone, it's always best to check and to share a decision.

Private social media accounts

While employees may jump up and down about how their social media accounts are theirs and therefore private, the courts don’t always see it that way.

Yes, they can do and say whatever they please on their own social media profiles, but more often than not, they can only do so as long as their behaviour doesn’t breach the law or your social media policies, assuming, of course, they’ve been made aware of it and it is a properly drafted document that doesn’t breach any of their rights.

In fact, in a recent UK court case an Apple employee, “Mr Crisp” criticised various Apple products on his private Facebook account and was dismissed. He took the matter to court – and lost - because Apple has a very clear social media policy in force that specifically prohibits such behaviour.

There have been myriad similar examples and, conversely, plenty of instances in which the employee has won and, though every case is judged on its own merits, what is becoming increasingly clear is that employees who are bound by a social media policy are less to find themselves protected in the courts if they flagrantly breach that policy.


Putting this into action

Of course, be sure to run everything by your lawyer first as every business is different and it’s such a new area of law that very little is set in stone, and the line between what you can include in your business’ social media policy and what you can’t can be paper thin. You definitely don't want to tip over the edge into restricting your employees rights, but at the same time, you want to protect yourself and those under you employ.

Whichever approach to formulating a social media policy for your business you adopt, be it the simple, trusting approach or a hard-lined, codified stance, take every measure you can to ensure your employees know exactly what is expected of them and exactly what they can and can’t do.



For examples of social media polices that work, check out the following sites and, given how important social media policies are these days, don't forget again to see a lawyer about getting one drafted up.