Cases of employees losing their jobs for careless social media postings have been well documented in the media over the last few years, and sometimes have gone before the courts. With the self-publishing nature of social media and the desire to share opinions on all sorts of issues, comes the very real possibility that something will be said online which could harm the business.
As the line is blurred between what is and what isn’t acceptable when it comes to social media use in a workplace, a detailed social media policy on the expectations of your business are now more important than ever to manage usage and communicate the expectations of your company. Not only will a robust policy prevent social media mishaps, if disciplinary action is taken against the employee, a good policy will stand up to external scrutiny if required.
Each industry and business will have unique requirements however here are five general areas that should be considered to develop a well-rounded social media policy for your business.
1. Usage of Social Media at Work
More employers are realising that blanket bans on social media during work hours may not take into account the benefits of the medium for networking, marketing and other potential that the platforms can present. It’s understandable that employers might fear that allowing access to social media sites may be a drain on productivity, but as people become to understand the power of social media, blanket bans may not always be the best answer.
It is essential that the usage allowances are clearly explained in the policy and are specific. That means outlining exactly what is ‘reasonable use.’ If social media use is to be limited to breaks only, this needs to be clearly spelled out.
2. Usage Outside of the Workplace
While it’s important to address usage during work hours, it is also essential to communicate the expectation of reasonable posting outside of work hours. Posting on behalf of the company, or implying it is on behalf of the company or saying anything that could bring the company into disrepute is something that should not be tolerated – even outside of work hours.
It’s important a social media policy explains that employees should assume anything they say will be public – and once something is on the internet, it can be difficult to erase, and could be shared onwards. Everything posted relating to work must follow the mantra of ‘think before you post.’
3. Acceptable Behaviour Online
A social media policy needs to outline what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. It’s not enough to just say be respectful and professional. What constitutes respectful, professional and unacceptable behaviour should be clearly outlined. This includes anything that could be seen as harassment, abusive, intimidating or belittling to other staff members.
Social media policies that address appropriate behaviour should align with existing harassment or bullying policies in your workplace.
It’s a misconception that ‘freedom of speech’ gives an employee free reign to write whatever they like about others (eg, employers, co-workers, customers, suppliers) without the potential for consequences.
4. Publishing of Confidential Material
Most social media policies include the clause that company secrets, and sensitive information about the company will be kept private and not leaked in any way through social media. This includes new announcements, products, or other sensitive information that could affect the interests of the business. Keeping company confidentiality applies online, much like other acceptable behaviour in the workplace.
5. A clear definition of what is considered social media
Most staff members are well aware of Facebook and Twitter platforms, but it’s important that all social media platforms are clearly defined. Employees should understand that whatever they post online relating to their employer or workplace has the potential to cause damage. Blog posts, forum comments and other published viewpoints that could affect the interests of the business negatively or be seen as inflammatory are not acceptable and can be broadly considered social media. Often a social media policy will align or draw information from a company’s internet usage or online policy.
Good policies should also highlight the expected behaviour and the consequences for breaching that behaviour. Instead of them being overly restrictive they should be based around common sense to let staff know where the line is. Like all policies in a workplace, making sure staff members are aware and educated about the policy is essential.