At this point, nearly every business, regardless of size, has a social media presence — as does nearly every single one of their employees. Like it or not, social media isn’t an option for your company anymore. It’s basically a must-have.
Customers not only expect you to have an easy-to-use website, but they want to see you on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and plenty of other platforms you probably wish you didn’t have to think about. Of course, this means you need to develop strong social media guidelines for your employees to follow, while they’re on and off the clock.
Social media creates an obligation on the behalf of your company to have trusted, well-trained, and responsible staff representing your business online. It’s so easy for an employee to misspeak or get baited by an annoying internet troll. Social media also provides ample opportunity for your workforce to talk about your business when they’re off the clock. This can be a good thing, but it can also backfire if people believe your employees are speaking on the behalf of your company, even while on their personal pages.
While social media can be a frustrating venture for any business, it also creates an environment where you can interact on a more personal and immediate level with customers (both current and prospective). It expands the reach of your brand while increasing brand interactions.
Social media is here to stay. Because of this, many companies have developed social media guidelines — both for staff members who work in the marketing and customer service departments (who will be speaking on the behalf of the company), as well as employees outside of those departments who simply engage in social media on a personal level. Social media guidelines don’t tell employees how to use social media in general, but rather describe how it’s appropriate to use social media when talking for, or about, the company. You can download some excellent sample policies here.Why Social Media Guidelines are Important
It’s safe to assume the vast majority of your employees are on social media. Some will be more active than others, but nearly everyone will have a presence on at least one channel — more than likely, multiple social platforms, with the most popular being Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for personal use and LinkedIn for professional networking.
One of the most important aspects of social media guidelines is that they help you set a standard for employee use of company equipment. Educating your employees on what you find to be acceptable social media use (especially during work hours) is an important way to communicate expected behavior and appropriate use of company time.
In order to keep social media use to an absolute minimum, your knee-jerk reaction may be to block social media sites company-wide, but if you have staff members who manage your own company’s social channels, or sales and human resources personnel reliant upon LinkedIn, blocking these sites will impede their ability to do their jobs effectively.
No one wants their employees wasting their days away on personal social media channels, but some of your staff will legitimately need to access the sites as part of their job. And if you block the channels, you may find people spending more time on their smartphones or slipping out of the office for a quick “break,” which only exacerbates lower productivity.
The best approach is to establish a social media policy that outlines your acceptable usage guidelines and then trust your employees to do the right thing by adhering to the social media guidelines you’ve laid out for them. You’re allowed to ask people to limit personal social media use to breaks and lunch time. Chances are, if you specifically ask them not access social media while they’re working, most people will listen.
Social Media Guidelines for Employees’ Personal Channels
As an employer, you cannot legally tell your employees what they can and cannot talk about on their own personal social networking channels. The rights to free speech and the ability to organize are protected by the first amendment.
However, you’re allowed to write some guidelines for posting on social media and request they follow them. For example, employees should be told they cannot speak about certain topics online, such as trade secrets, corporate strategies, confidential financial information, or news on upcoming products or events that haven’t been announced yet.
Generally, if they wouldn’t be allowed to talk about something in public, they shouldn’t discuss it on social media. If they knowingly choose to ignore policies like these in your social media guidelines, the first amendment does not protect them. The employee could be subject to whatever consequences are laid out in the policy (such as disciplinary action or termination, depending on the severity of the offense).
Make sure employees understand that on their personal pages, outside the scope of potential marketing duties, they’re not authorized to speak on the company’s behalf and should not make comments that could be construed that way. It’s one thing to post a status update complaining about a current event and expressing personal views on the matter, but it’s another to mention the company’s name while doing so (as people could believe this is an official statement from your business).
The Legalities of Guidelines for Posting on Social Media
While none of us want to see our employees saying negative things about our companies online, we can’t necessarily stop it, but there are some limits to the first amendment in this regard. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB, the impartial governing body for the National Labor Relations Act) offers guidance on employer social media guidelines.
According to the NLRB, employees have the right to “address work-related issues and share information about pay, benefits, and working conditions with coworkers on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media,” as those actions are considered protected “concerted activity” — however, they’re careful to say that simply complaining about work isn’t.
They continue, “what you say must have some relation to group action, or seek to initiate, induce, or prepare for group action, or bring a group complaint to the attention of management. Such activity is not protected if you say things about your employer that are egregiously offensive or knowingly and deliberately false, or if you publicly disparage your employer's products or services without relating your complaints to any labor controversy.”
In other words, if your employees are simply sharing their salaries online (like on Glassdoor), that’s protected speech. However, if they’re complaining about their pay without also saying that they’re planning to bring (or already brought) a formal complaint to your human resources department, it might not be, and could potentially be seen as disparaging against your company.
“I hate working at XYZ. The pay is terrible and the hours are ridiculous.” is very different from “The pay at XYZ is under market value and my hours are unpredictable. I’m going to write a complaint to my HR director.”
If you’re working on social media guidelines for your employees, we have a sample policy you can follow which you can customize to your company’s specific needs.
Managing Social Media on a Company Level
If you don’t have a Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn account for your business yet, you really should. Most companies have customers wanting to follow them on social media so they can look for special deals, coupons, upcoming sales, or sneak peeks into upcoming events or new products. And potential employees want to get a feel for a company’s culture.
However, managing social media is more difficult than most people realize — especially when you have more than one person managing it, which is often the case. Social media interactions are expected to be quick, so most companies staff social media for more than eight hours a day, five days a week. It’s simply too much to ask one person to handle and you never know when someone will take a leave of absence, or a sick day, or even another job.
Having multiple social media managers makes social media guidelines even more important. In order to maintain the same tone, feel, and acceptable subject matter on your company’s channels, employees need specific guidelines for posting on social media.
Comprehensive social media guidelines provide parameters under which your employees can conduct business on your behalf. Consider the following:
- Is it acceptable to discuss current events as long as they are relevant to your line of work? (For example, we frequently post about employee benefits and regulatory changes in healthcare law.)
- Are pop culture references fitting with your brand? (It’s appropriate for baseball teams, but perhaps not for employee benefits brokers.)
- What sources are acceptable to link to? (For example, you probably shouldn’t link to competitors.)
Guidelines for posting on social media don’t just end with tweets and status updates. They also need to address acceptable ways of interacting with customers. Can you joke with them or does that not fit with the overall brand of your business? How do you address customer complaints? These are all questions that can be addressed with social media guidelines and proper training. If everyone is on the same page, your company’s social media endeavors will be far more successful.
Creating Social Media Guidelines
Because social media is still relatively new and the law takes a while to catch up, there are still very few laws addressing social media in the workplace and you don’t want to step out of bounds. If you’d like a starting point, download our Social Media Guidelines eBook which contains; sample social media policies, legal considerations with social media, and suggestions for protecting your online reputation. As always, be sure to consult your legal counsel before finalizing your social media guidelines.
What are your social media guidelines for employees? Leave us a comment below or contact us. We’d love to hear what’s working for you!