Social media is ubiquitous. Perhaps this is an understatement. Social media provides a powerful platform to express personal, political and, yes, commercial messages. So, if you are not seriously leveraging social media to market your business, no matter what industry you are in, you should probably re-evaluate your marketing program right now.
However, the combination of lack of barriers to entry and immediate and universal access to social media are both advantages and disadvantages. While well-planned and executed use of social media can elevate your business to new heights, unsupervised and spontaneous use of social media can be your undoing, literally.
Therefore, any wise and prudent business will regulate use of social media by all employees. This regulation should take the form of regular employee social media training and preparation and dissemination of a comprehensive, well thought out Social Media Policy. This article will discuss preparation of a Social Media Policy.
Benefits of having a Social Media Policy
- Brings power of employees into marketing efforts
- Provides guide for consistent and focused marketing message and program
- Limits potential for legal liability from errant messaging
- Constructs barrier to inadvertent confidentiality and security leaks
- Provides grounds for disciplinary action
After reading this article, you might be ready to put together your Social Media Policy. If so, great. However, if you feel a bit unsure, then seek guidance, because it’s important to make sure you get it right. If you would like to inquire about receiving our assistance, please reach out to me. We have a detailed interview process for gathering all information needed for preparation of a comprehensive Social Media Policy. In most cases, we will be able to quote a reasonable flat fee for preparation of a Social Media Policy.
First, defining social media
We engage with it, probably too much, but we still need to be clear on what social media is in order to prepare a comprehensive Social Media Policy. Of course, social media includes platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, but it also includes any service that facilitates conversations online. Therefore, social media also includes things like blogs, commenting on news articles, YouTube, Reddit and wikis.
What to consider before preparing your Social Media Policy
There are many questions that you need to consider before preparing your company’s social media policy, such as:
- What are your social media strategies and goals?
- What roles do employees play in achieving those goals?
- Which employees should be encouraged to promote the business, products and services of the business and which should be instructed not to make such promotions?
- In addition to employees using their personal social media accounts, does your business actively market through social media via company pages?
- Do you set up social media accounts for employees?
- Do you hire third parties to perform social media marketing activities?
- Do you use influencers for promoting products and services?
- Are your employees subject to non-solicitation and non-competition provisions that might impact post-employment use of social media?
TOPICS TO COVER IN YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY
Below you will find many topics that can be included in a Social Media Policy. However, Social Media Policies need to be tailored to each company’s circumstances. If your Social Media Policy is too long or too detailed, then it may lose its effectiveness by appearing too burdensome to employees to actually read and apply. After you prepare a draft Social Media Policy, it’s a good idea to seek review and input from a focus group of your employees.
Reputation management – your company’s reputation is your company, so protect it.
- Explain what can and can’t be shared.
- Indicate that messages should be clear to distinguish when they are stating facts and when opinions. This is especially true in blogs.
- Prohibit employees from representing themselves as a spokesperson for your company.
- Explain trademark and brand guidelines.
- Provide guidance on how to talk about your products and services.
- Make clear that your company will not tolerate discrimination, including age, sex, race, color, creed, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, citizenship, disability, or marital status or any other legally recognized protected basis under federal, state, or local laws, regulations or ordinances.
- Messages should not be offensive, crude, profane threats of violence.
- Explain proper messaging etiquette.
- Explain how message should not in any manner harm the reputation of your company or be inconsistent with the values your company seeks to project.
Message management – without management, there’s no effective policy
- Establish message approval protocol. Pre-approved messages can be provided. Some categories of employees or topics might require prior approval others not.
- Create roles and responsibilities for messages affecting brand management, legal issues, customer service, security issues, etc.
- Instruct what actions to take if mistakes are made. Mistakes on use of social media WILL be happen, so work out a path for this in advance. Employees should be encouraged to bring forward mistakes, because if they are fearful to do so, then you will lack the speed necessary to nip a mistake in the bud.
- Plan for what actions to take if social media account comes under attack by hackers.
- Vet messages to verify that they are be true and not misleading, and all claims must be substantiated.
- Restrict release of confidential information. Of course, employees need to be instructed generally how to handle confidential information. However, these instructions become all the more critical when factoring in social media.
- Verify that messages do not include sensitive, private or confidential company information (e.g., unannounced product launches and promotions, internal sales results, company strategy, pricing information or comparisons, internal reports, policies, procedures or other internal business-related confidential communications).
Legal management – managing liability is an important component
- Educate how not to release company or customer confidential information.
- Credit sources if a post contains novel information or ideas.
- Prohibit posting comments about a customer or competitor that could be perceived as harassing, threatening, retaliatory or discriminatory.
- Make sure all customer endorsements and testimonials are real and not fabricated.
- If anything of value is transferred to someone providing an endorsement or testimonial, then this must be disclosed in the testimonial.
- Educate and prohibit posting of infringing material. Employees need to know that unless expressly provided otherwise, no content is “public domain” on the Internet. This applies to images, text, videos, etc.
- Restrict posting of images of others without their permission.
- Prohibit release of private personal information. This may be information about a customer or fellow employees. If your business information uses HIPAA regulated information, then all regulations must be taught and observed (e.g., personal addresses, phone numbers or credit card information)
- Employees should under appropriate circumstances include disclaimers such as: “views expressed are mine and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer”
- Employees, contractors, and outside influencers need to acknowledge their employee status to comply with influencer regulations.
- Require compliance with terms and conditions of social network sites.
- Require prior approval for contests or promotions.
- Make it clear when posts are advertising, if it is not otherwise clear from the context. For example, for tweets or other written posts on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook as well as descriptions of photos on platforms like Instagram, start posts with #Paid or #Ad.
- Make known that it is illegal to communicate or give a “tip” on inside information to others so that they may buy or sell stocks or securities.
There is a myriad of issues that need to be addressed in advance and when an employee leaves, such as:
- Pre-determine ownership of social media accounts.
- Obtain all credentials for company-owned accounts which should be unchanged by exiting employee.
- For accounts the employee takes, which contacts and connections should be deleted to avoid conflict with non-solicitation and non-competition restrictions?
- Ensure that employee updates personal accounts to show no longer working for your company.
- Have employee agree in writing to perform certain post-employment tasks relating to social media accounts.
- Put in place procedures for monitoring compliance with obligations and consequences for non-compliance.
No discussion of Social Media Policies would be complete without mention of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
The content of a Social Media Policy, and its enforcement, may not violate the NLRA or National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules and regulations, or related state laws. The NLRA prohibits an employee being fired based upon “protected, concerted activity” that relate to the terms and conditions of employment or seek to involve other employees in issues relating to employment. Therefore, employees have the right to share grievances and organize online in relation to their workplace. An employee who is fired for posting online complaints about wages, benefits, tip sharing, management, or hours may have a valid basis for legal action against the employer. Even for permitted disciplinary action, you must be consistent when enforcing your Social Media Policy.
No company should be without a well-drafted, comprehensive Social Media Policy, that gets regularly reviewed and updated.
In order to make your Social Media Policy effective, you need to officially adopt the policy, include it in your employee handbook (if you have one or otherwise disseminate it), and regularly inform and remind employees of the importance of compliance with the policy for business purposes, but also as relates to their personal social media accounts, online networking accounts, blogs, and online posts.