I am not an attorney. I don't even play one on TV. (Though I did really want to go to law school so I could be a sports agent, but that's neither here nor there.)
I am a communications professional who spends a lot of time online, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that you need a social media policy.
I spend a significant amount of time on the road speaking to business owners, entrepreneurs, and leaders, and I've discovered that a minority have policies.
You have an employee handbook. Your employees know how to answer the phone, what to put in their email signatures, even what to wear to trade shows. But you haven't told them how to behave online.
[Related: 5 questions your social media policy must answer]
The legal ramifications
Peter Fischer, an attorney at Stokes Roberts & Wagner, says it's best to have a policy with a signature line where employees put their John Hancock.
In accordance with National Labor Relations Board laws, he recommends the following:
- Employers cannot restrict anyone from commenting on his or her work life.
- Employers can make sure employees sign confidentiality provisions.
- Employees can't lie.
There aren't clear-cut laws (yet) on what employees can or can't say—or how employers react—on social networks.
That said, if a group of employees complain about a policy or procedure on their personal Facebook pages, the NLRB allows it. But if a single employee posts something harmful to the company, the employer has more rights.
For instance, a few weeks ago a young lady tweeted that she hated her job and her boss. The CEO of the company saw the tweet and tweeted back: "That's good because you no longer work here."
The social media policy
It's not as scary as it seems. Your social media policy doesn't need to be drawn out and overly legal. It can be an addendum to your employee handbook.
It should include the following:
1. Be transparent. State where you work. If you're distributing content for a client, make it clear.
2. Don't lie. Don't misrepresent your company, customers, or competitors.
3. Be meaningful and respectful. Don't spam or argue.
4. Use common sense and common courtesy. If in doubt, don't post.
5. Stick to your areas of expertise.
6. Offer insight and wisdom, but don't provide any confidential information.
7. Don't swear.
8. Be polite. Don't be antagonistic.
9. Don't comment on any legal matters or litigation.
10. If the topic is one of crisis, do not comment.
11. Google has a long memory. Be smart about what you post.
12. Don't post about your competition unless you have written consent from them.
13 . If you use social media on behalf of clients, please double check that you post updates from the correct account.
14. Don't be stupid.
Of course, these are just guidelines, and you want your attorney to review what you put together.
If you need help, there is a directory of social media policies already written and legally approved that you can use for your template.
What else do you think companies should include in a social media policy?
Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally ran on Spin Sucks.