It is nearly impossible for a company to completely avoid social media in today’s marketplace. Whether your company uses social media for hiring, marketing, or communicating businesses use social media. In fact according to the 2017 study from Inc., 96 percent of the companies surveyed use at least one form of social media.
Given that figure, it is shocking how few companies actually develop and enforce a company policy for social media.
A company’s social media policy is nothing more than a list of guidelines that cover behavior of employees who choose to participate in social media. Most companies address identification or association with the employer, unacceptable content, client privacy, and other corporate issues. Recently several social media scandals, and controversies involving employees acting independently, have bled over to their employers. Without a written social media policy, it can be difficult to discipline or terminate an employee who engages in incorrect or damaging social media behavior. Your policy is your safety net and a way to proactively manage social media blunders.
The first steps for any company should be educating its employees about social media. Consider implementing a brief program, module, or seminar covering basic social media literacy. Explain the importance of privacy settings and geotags. Share cautionary tales and social media horror stories with your staff so that they can understand what is at stake. They need to grasp that, no matter how harmless the intention, bad press can hurt the company and possibly derail entire careers.
Here are two things for employees to remember when posting on behalf of your company.
- Represent your company, not yourself. People can believe whatever they choose. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable for you to post an opinion about the latest conspiracy theory on your personal social media but you would never post that same belief on your employer’s profile. Customers could think that it was your employer’s official stance or opinion. There is a reason that most corporate social media accounts eschew politics and other hot button issues – no one wants to alienate potential customers.
- The internet grants immortality. If you post anything on the internet, even if it was —visible for a moment and then, deleted chances are that someone was able to get a screenshot. No matter how quick and sincere the apology, and no matter how effective the atonement, that blight will remain on a company’s reputation forever. Five minutes of poor judgement can equate to a lifetime of bad publicity for a company (not to mention long-term unemployment for the poster).
When posting as an individual, employees should consider the following points.
- You still represent your company. Even if you are not posting in an official capacity, or as an official representative of your company, readers will connect you to your employer. A good rule of thumb: If you would not say something while prominently featuring your employer’s name and logo, then you should not post an identical message to any social media platform.
- Your employer might/can/will discover you. Airing petty grievances is cathartic but doing so in front of the person/people who aggrieved you can be counterproductive. If you want to keep the job, don’t complain about the job.
- Not everyone has the same sense of humor. Have you ever said something that you thought was funny, only to horribly offend every listener? Have you ever responded sarcastically, but were taken seriously? Have you ever made a joke that just did not work? Everyone has experienced a similar situation. Humor is subjective and misunderstandings occur. However, you might face more than just momentary embarrassment if HR doesn’t get your joke.
Finally, a quick rule for everyone to follow across all social media platforms, both corporate and private:
- Double, triple, and quadruple check every post before it goes live. Check for errors in spelling, grammar, and facts. Make sure that your source is credible. Don’t bumble into controversy, just ask for a second opinion if you have any doubts.
You can easily incorporate your social media policy into your onboarding program. You might also consider annual training or another type of refresher course for all your employees. The key is to make sure that everyone is aware of the policy and appropriate social media etiquette.
Note: As with any policy that could potentially impact civil rights, tread carefully. These suggestions should in no way be construed as legal advice. Because social media is a relatively new phenomenon, the relevant case law is still evolving. Consult with your legal department or attorney to make sure that your social media policy will protect your company’s image while respecting your employees’ rights.