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Does your company have a social media policy? If so, do you know what it contains? When was the last time it got reviewed and updated? Are your employees even aware the policy exists and are they adhering to it?
These are all very important questions — especially if your company is looking establish itself on the path to becoming a social enterprise. A properly crafted social media policy will not only reduce company risks, it can also be used as a tool to educate employees on the proper way to use social media to benefit the entire enterprise.
To get started, there are many examples of social media policies that can be found online. There are short and simple policies as well as incredibly long and detailed ones. In addition, there are specialized provisions that have been developed to matters such as the governance of internal social networks and their use by employees.
As social business consultants and lawyers, we often get asked to help clients create an effective social media policy. Due to our background we feel uniquely qualified to handle this sort of assignment. From this experience we have put together a list of basic tips that any organization can follow in tackling this issue.
1- Keep it simple: The best social media policies are those that are simple and easy to understand by all employees. If your policy contains a large amount of fine print or technical jargon, requirements or restrictions, the odds are that employees will not understand it and will either ignore it or refrain from using social technologies all together. Employees may fear doing something on social media that can ultimately get them terminated. Try to keep your policy to one page. This allows you to post it near the coffee machine or somewhere else where it can be easily seen and reinforced.
2-Make it positive: A common mistake most companies make is to craft their social media policy in negative terms. “Don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” This approach only increases the anxiety and fear your employees will have about using social media; and it most likely will result in diminished participation and effectiveness. Keep in mind that many people have an initial fear of social media and feel unsure about the right way to approach it. Employee advocacy of social media is an incredibly important component of crafting a successful social media strategy. You don’t want a policy to scare people away. For a good example of a policy with a positive focus check out The Gap’s social media policy.
3-Reflect your culture: The Gap example above is reflective of The Gap company culture. It reflects the kind of company they are and the type of social interactions they want to promote internally as well as externally. The style may or may not fit your culture. Try to craft a policy that reflects your company values and internal culture. Another great idea is to enlist your employees help in developing the policy. This is what IBM did. In the spring of 2005, IBMers used a wiki to create a set of guidelines for all IBMers who wanted to blog. These guidelines aimed to provide helpful, practical advice to protect both IBM bloggers and IBM. In 2008 and again in 2010 IBM turned to employees to re-examine the guidelines in light of ever-evolving technologies and online social tools to ensure they remain current to the needs of employees and the company. These efforts have broadened the scope of the existing guidelines to include all forms of social computing. The IBM social media policy has thus evolved to directly reflect the values and culture of the firm’s employees.
4-Refer to other organizational policies in your social media policy. Don’t crowd the social media policy with too much information. Your company should already have organizational policies in place that should inform your social media policy. Things like employee conduct and confidentiality clauses should already be covered in your organizational policies and employee manuals. Stay focused on social media on your social media policy.
5-Don’t make it too restrictive: The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) recently issues a memorandum which warns companies that making their social media policy too restrictive could be a violation of federal labor laws. The NLRB memo states that it’s unlawful to prohibit workers to post “confidential” or “non-public” information about the employer. Without further definition, these terms are too vague, and could be construed to prohibit worker discussions about their working conditions, which must be allowed, the NLRB said. The memo reiterated that employees are allowed to, on their personal social media accounts, discuss “concerted activity” under Section 7 of the NLRB. Generally speaking, concerted activity refers to anything between employees that’s related to improving the terms, conditions, and details of their employment. This includes factors like their working conditions and even their wages. The NLRB has posted a sample policy here.
6-Keep it current: Social Media technology continues to evolve at high-speed. New networks and tools are continuously being introduced. Video services like Vine and Instagram didn’t exist a few years ago. With technology changing so rapidly, it is important to periodically review your policy to make sure it adapts as new tools and networks are introduced. I recommend reviewing your social media policy every six months to make sure it keeps us with the latest technology as well as how your organization is using social tools.
7-Run it by a lawyer: Whether it’s your in-house legal department or an outside legal expert, it is important that your policy gets reviewed by a competent lawyer before it becomes official. A well-constructed social media policy should reduce the amount of risk your organization is exposed to when dealing with social technologies. Your social media policy should address issues such as: confidential information, intellectual property, trade secrets, discrimination, retaliation, bullying and impersonating others. Again, check with a lawyer before you make your policy official.
So there you have it. A good set of tips for you to start crafting your organization’s social media policy. There are many additional resources available online to provide further guidance and examples to consider in shaping your firm’s own policy. Here is one site that provides a good starting point.
Don’t forget that having a social media policy alone isn’t enough. If you want your company succeeds with social technology, you also have to devote time and resources to employee training – but that’s the subject for another blog post.