21 guidelines every social media policy needs

There aren’t many clear-cut laws about what employees can say online and how employers should react, but these guidelines can help keep both employees and executives happy.

Kerry Gorgone wrote a blog post about whether you should friend your employees on social media.

I have a hard time with this for two reasons:

  1. I met each of my employees through social media, which means I was friends with them there before they started working for me.
  2. Social media is part of what my team does, so there is a big blurry line between personal and professional.

Right now, it’s probably OK (I say “probably” because my staff may tell you differently), but as we continue to grow, this may be something I need to keep in mind. It might not be OK to be friends with all of my employees on social media.

That’s why a social media policy is so important. Right now, our policy is pretty much “Don’t swear” and “Consider the optics.” But as we continue to add to our team, the policy will have to evolve.

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 (NLRB) laws, he recommends the following:

  1. Employers cannot restrict anyone from commenting on his or her work life.
  2. Employers can make sure employees sign confidentiality provisions.
  3. Employees can’t lie.

There aren’t clear-cut laws (yet) on what employees can and cannot say or how employers should react on social media.

That said, if a group of employees complains about a policy or procedure on Facebook, the NLRB allows it. But if an employee posts something harmful to the company, the employer has more rights.

At my communications firm, if someone posts something that may leave the wrong impression, I’ll bring it up and ask them to consider how someone who doesn’t work here would read it.

It doesn’t happen often, but I like my staff to think about the perception they’re leaving. Then it’s up to them to edit, delete or just keep it in mind for next time.

The social media policy

Part of the reason many organizations don’t have a social media policy is because they approach it from a legal standpoint, and it becomes a long, drawn-out thing.

It doesn’t have to be. Include these items in your social media policy:

  1. State where you work. If you distribute content for a client, make that clear.
  2. Don’t lie.
  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 areas of expertise.
  6. Offer insight and wisdom, but don’t provide confidential information.
  7. Don’t swear.
  8. Be polite. Don’t be antagonistic.
  9. Do not comment on any legal matters or litigation.
  10. If someone brings up a crisis, do not comment.
  11. Be smart about what you post. Google has a long memory.
  12. Don’t post about competitors unless you have written consent from them to do so.
  13. Don’t post about the company or clients without authorization.
  14. Be transparent.
  15. Always disclose any freebies you’ve received or anything you’re getting paid to post.
  16. If you use social media on behalf of clients, double check that you’re updating from the correct account.
  17. Never leak confidential work information to social media, bloggers or the media.
  18. Keep the line between personal and business as clear as possible.
  19. Be kind to your colleagues and peers.
  20. If you post from company-provided technology or on company time, have no expectation of privacy.
  21. Don’t be stupid.

There are consequences

Business Insider recently released an internal LinkedIn document that describes, in detail, how it will become a $1 billion company. Every page of that document says, “Do not share externally,” “For internal LinkedIn only. Do not distribute or discuss outside of LinkedIn” and “Everything on this page is strictly confidential. Do not share this information externally under any circumstances.”

And yet …

If anyone violates the social media policy (No. 17 in Business Insider’s case), there will be consequences, which could include termination. (As a business owner, I might commit murder if someone distributed something like this externally.)

Every employee must sign the policy, which creates a binding contract.

If you need help, there is a directory of social media policies already written and legally approved that you can use as a template.

What else should you include in a social media policy?

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.

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