Every business should have them.
By Alexandra Walsh
Like it or not, a social media presence isn’t an option for your company anymore. It’s a must have. Customers not only expect you to have an easy-to-use website, but they want to see you on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and other platforms.
This means you need to develop strong social media guidelines for your employees to follow while they’re on and off the clock.
Social media creates an obligation on the behalf of your company to have trusted, well-trained, and responsible staff representing your business online at all times.
It’s easy for someone to misspeak or get baited by an annoying Internet troll, so caution is a must. Social media also provides ample opportunity for people to talk about their place of employment when they’re off the clock. This can be a good thing, but it can also backfire when people believe employees are speaking on behalf of the company even while on their personal pages.
But it’s not all bad. While social media can be a frustrating venture, it also creates an environment where you can interact on a more personal and immediate level with customers (both current and prospective). It expands the reach of your company while increasing brand interactions.
There is no doubt social media is here to stay. Because of this, many companies have developed social media guidelines. Such guidelines don’t tell employees how to use social media in general, but rather describe how it is appropriate to use social media when talking for, or about, the company.
While none of us want to see our employees saying negative things about our company online, and we can’t necessarily stop it, there are some limits to the First Amendment in this regard.
The National Labor Relations Board offers guidance on social media guidelines for the employer. According to the NLRB, employees have the right to “address work-related issues and share information about pay, benefits, and working conditions with coworkers on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media.”
Those actions are considered a form of “protected concerted activity”—the right of employees to act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions, with or without a union. If employers try to penalize or fire employees for taking part in such protected activity, the NLRB will fight to restore the employees’ rights.
However, the NLRB is careful to say that simply complaining about work isn’t a right:
What you say must have some relation to group action; or seek to initiate, induce, or prepare for group action; or bring a group complaint to the attention of management. Such activity is not protected if you say things about your employer that are egregiously offensive or knowingly and deliberately false, or if you publicly disparage your employer’s products or services without relating your complaints to any labor controversy.
In other words: If your employees are sharing their salaries online, that’s protected speech. But if they’re complaining about their pay without also saying they’re planning to bring (or already brought) a formal complaint to the human resources department or company owner, it might not be, and could potentially be, disparaging against your company.
Since that clarification can make things tricky, developing a social media policy that includes guidelines, best practices, and training tips for your employees is essential.
Without a clear policy in place, your company risks being embarrassed by what employees post and may even face legal issues in case of a misstep or account hack. Here are some of the actions you should take and items your policy needs to cover to keep your company and its reputation safe.
1. Educate employees about social media.
If an employee’s social post or comments violate the site’s policies, this violation not only reflects back on the company but further limits the company from future use of the site.
2. Remind employees of blurred personal/ professional lines.
The lines between personal and professional have become increasingly blurred. How one represents themselves on a personal social media account can often bleed over to their professional interests.
Make it a point to remind employees that how they portray or express themselves on social media can often result in negative professional consequences. This simple reminder helps alleviate issues.
3. Present views in a professional manner.
Think carefully when considering posting controversial views, understand the social conventions practiced in different forums (posting birthday photos on Facebook vs. LinkedIn), and remember that you are an ambassador for your company.
As a consequence, you should present your thoughts or views in a professional manner.
4. Respect professional boundaries.
Employers and employees need to respect the professional boundaries of coworkers.
If a manager dislikes an employee, they may try and use information to discriminate against that employee. It could lead to cyberbullying, which makes for a hostile work environment.
5. Keep workplace issues or conflicts confidential.
Conflict in the workplace is practically inevitable, but how those issues are dealt with is in each team member’s control. Companies should remind employees they are still representatives of the company.
Any complaints or concerns they have in the workplace can be properly addressed and mediated without an online audience of customers, team members, or competitors.
6. Clarify whose opinion is expressed.
Since so much of our work and personal lives can overlap, it is important to make clear who we are representing—our company or ourselves. Lack of clarity could have a negative impact on your company or the customers you represent.
Always use a clarifying statement like, “The opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.”
7. Represent an employer across all platforms.
A social media policy should apply to all platforms, and ultimately everything employees post online. Some employees may believe that while they use LinkedIn and Twitter for business purposes, they use Facebook for personal use, and can therefore post indiscriminately.
However, they are still company representatives, and inappropriate posts may damage their employer’s reputation as well as their own.
8. Do not disclose confidential or proprietary information.
Businesses should clearly state that employees should not disclose company information that is confidential or proprietary. There should be a defined department or person to contact if there are questions regarding what information falls within those parameters.
Tie this in with the code of conduct policy so that it is understood that violations could result in discipline or even termination.
9. Monitor social media posts.
There is no need to go on a witch hunt to look for employees breaking your social media code of conduct. Simply monitor any company mentions on social media with the help of a social media listening tool or doing simple brand name searches on Twitter and Instagram.
There can also be a general “If you see something, say something” rule in the case of a disgruntled employee posting threatening language to their social media accounts.
10. Deal with former employees.
If an employee is let go or resigns, make sure you delete that person’s access to all corporate social media channels.
Change all social media passwords as soon as possible to ensure the former employee cannot hack the account.
As an employer, you can reduce the risks inherent in social media by educating your employees. In an era of oversharing in which everything seems to be fair game, your company will avoid damaging its reputation by having these policies in place.