7 essential rules to creating a social media policy

You will have a difficult time winning in court if you never told employees they couldn’t do what they did


It’s relentless. You find stories every day on Google that announce how someone got fired for posting senseless comments on social media. We call that getting “dooced”.

You’ve probably been alerted to potential disputes such as these:

  • Are you legally exposed when it comes to the rights of employees who want to freely post on social networks?
  • Who is liable when a disgruntled employee tweets about getting passed over for a promotion?
  • Should you just ban all employees from accessing their social media sites at work completely?

Your company – big or small – needs a social media policy adviser, says social media pioneer Olivier Taupin. He’s the guy who originated group rules for LinkedIn managers. The degree of leniency is up to you and your management team to decide, based on the structure of your company. By the way, if you don’t have a policy, your lawyer’s hands are tied when it comes to an employee suing for wrongful dismissal because they dissed your company online. You will have a difficult time winning in court because you never told employees they couldn’t do what they did.

You may prefer this stern approach to social media:

  • Employees who develop and update social media postings will only do so with the approval of the president or his/her designate;
  • Only employees who have been chosen as “official” social media representatives are allowed to contribute to the brand’s social media;
  • Social media is not allowed in the workplace, at all.

Personally, I don’t think harsh policies are relevant today. It’s a switch-up from “Old Style PR” designed to focus on things that employees cannot do rather than what they can do. Olivier adds that stern policies will not work in the context of social media since employees do have a life outside their workplace.

When crafting guidelines, here are seven essential Must-Dos.

  1. Start Day One. Include briefing notes for new employees on social media policies in their employee handbook. Make sure that employees understand the policy is contractual and there are consequences for violating it.
  2. Update your Social Policy Regularly. Social media is a fluid environment that reflects the laws governing the Internet. Expect your policies to change accordingly.
  3. Use common sense. Yes, it seems everyone should know to resist sending a racial slur, demeaning or inflammatory comment. Yet, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution and tell employees to be polite. Advise them to agree to disagree with others, especially on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where things can go virally wrong very quickly.
  4. Create safe places. Have a genuine open-door policy. Organizational trainer David Meade says it’s the leader’s job to figure out how to help your workforce feel safe. Why? Because employees want to feel respected . . . listened to . . . and trained. So, if an employee has a grievance, encourage them to visit their supervisor before taking to social.
  5. Ask employees to amplify key messages. Social media more likely will pay dividends if employees are behind it. Give them access to content that frames company positions and directions on key subjects. Ask them to share those messages.
  6. Encourage Self-Monitoring. Employee online profiles and activities are being checked. Controversial? Yes, for good reasons. Informing employees they do not have reasonable expectation of privacy in their social media communication is often a good enough deterrent. But there is even a better one: Encourage employees to follow each other and invite managers to connect with them. The purpose is to create a team spirit, not a police state.
  7. Most important of all: Don’t stop training your employees after day one. Use the training sessions to update your workforce on policies and as strategies change.

Everyone wins.

Communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a print business magazine for 21 years. She now works to assist clients in digital marketing.

social media policy

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login