Got a Social Media Policy?

Unless you have had your head in the sand or have lived without a computer for the last 3 years, you are very aware of how social media has infiltrated every aspect of the internet and the media. Just watch the news, each station has twitter feeds or Facebook pages. For those who see it as a fad there is an opposing view:  Facebook’s COO claims email is dead since only 11% of teens (the future of the work world) use email daily. So like it or not social media is a game changer to how we interact with people and how we conduct business will change along with it.

Many have discussed the merits of Social Media, but the debate over whether it is good or bad will be left for a different letter. For now, we need to accept that it is here to stay, then as members of the business community, we need to manage our operations under this new paradigm. The biggest misperception of social media is that it includes only Twitter, Myspace and Facebook. Although these 3 sites have the largest numbers of users, there are around 200 social media sites. Sites like,, and are all new forces in the space. Furthermore, there are many employees who are using social media to help grow their business. Sales people are finding LinkedIn a great tool for marketing and business development.

With so many sites and so few resources to monitor, what is a company to do?  The answer is to establish a solid, comprehensive social media policy. The proper policy is one that manages the behaviour of your staff while not attempting to control them. If your organization already has a policy, pat yourself on the back, but you need to review your policy on an annual based to ensure there are no loop-holes or that the rapidly changing space hasn’t outpaced your policy.

The key to a social media policy is providing guidelines to how the organization expects an employee to behave online.  Here are 7 points your corporate social media policy should cover:

1. Explain the rational for the policy

As with every policy, there needs to be strong justification and reason as to why this policy is being implemented.  Each staff member screens your policies and mandates with a WIIFM filter. This needs to be addressed in any corporate communication. If your staff feel the ideas are not communicated well enough, there will be little buy-in and the policy will fail.

2. Explain Accountability

Help your staff understand that what you write never goes away, even if deleted. Everything written can be used in a court of law, by a competitor to undermine your business, or by the media. Just look at FBhumor, which stores everything funny from Facebook.  You need to make it clear to your employees that they are accountable for everything they write, both today and in the future, and that what they say reflects on the company. Creating a social media policy is more sensitive than others.

What is specifically sensitive is the encroachment of the mandate to go beyond working hours. It has the perception of being a violation of free speech.  Your policy needs to explain that the company has no intention of removing any personal rights and an individual does have the right to say what they want, but you as an employer have the right to relieve someone of employment based on the employee’s actions if their behaviour has a negative impact an organization. There is even a term for it, “Dooced” – to lose a job resulting from comments posted on the internet.

3. Create awareness of audience

What makes social media so powerful is the same reason it so dangerous. This medium is open to everyone.  People reading your comments are being read by current/present /future employers & employees, current clients and potential clients, and competitors. Consider this before publishing.

4. Identify consequences

Before hitting the post button, a person should consider the potential consequences of the action. An example occurred recently when a former employer launched a law suit against a former employee for violation of the non-compete contract they signed. The suit specifies Linked In was used to solicit business away from the former employer.  In another case, a woman was sued $50,000 as compensation against the impact of her tweet. Although the case was dismissed, this still raises the question: What are the liabilities for a post? Note what the potential consequences for an infraction are and ensure this is considered by your staff.

5. Explain copyright law

Lawyers love this stuff.  Any violation of a copyright, you can expect a letter. Remember copyrights are the exclusive rights given to an author or creator of an original work giving them control over the distribution and adoption of the work, at the minimum your staff needs to cite or quote works.  To protect their rights, copyright law requires the author to go after any potential violator.

6. Define what are company secrets

Every organisation has company secrets. For some it is the formula, like Coca Cola; for others it is the processes, like GE; and for others it is strategy, like Google. It is critical for you to help your staff understand what is private and confidential. Do not assume your staff understands this.  What might seem obvious to you is actually understanding gained from experience.  There was the case of Mark Jen, who was working at Google and was blogging about his work life at Google. The issue the company had with the blog was it detailed company processes, financial information, future products and benefit details. He was asked to remove the blog, after doing so he was released.

7. Define Acceptable Social Media use during work hours

Social Media can be very addictive and as consequence can result in large drops in productivity. Just look at the World Cup.  The event cost the British economy over $7.8 billion resulting from work stoppages and skipped work during games.  Ensure your staff understands that social media, the same as personal email, needs to be limited during work hours and must not interfere with productivity unless it is being used for business purposes.

Social media is a great and powerful tool and to ignore it would be dangerous for any organization. These points are guidelines and important for companies to follow; however, every organization is different and faces unique risks, so it is advisable to have your policy reviewed by a lawyer who is familiar with social media.