Understanding the risks that a social media policy brings

board room meeting table

Even as social media presents new business opportunities, many organizations are still struggling to embrace it for fear that it puts their reputation at risk. Social media policy creation is touted as one way to manage online reputation risks, but in reality a social media policy isn't full-proof.

What is a social media policy?

A social media policy does define brand standards and voice to ensure consistency across online platforms, but it's not the same as a brand guide.

A social media policy is a set of guidelines or principles for "appropriate" conduct on social media. The objective of a social media policy is to mitigate risk by minimizing employee confusion about what is harmful to the organization and what is not. 

As you think about your current and future social media strategy, remember that whether you are a small business or a large corporation, policies can only protect your organization so much. Here are somethings that you need to know before you draft a social media policy:

A social media policy makes you responsible for your employees' behavior

If you want to direct and control the conduct of employees on social media, be aware that you are also assuming responsibility and liability for what they say or post. If a social post can be shown to somehow be within the scope of an employee's job at work, your organization could be held liable. But think about that, in how many circumstances is a social post within the scope of your job? Cyberbullying or defamation against co-workers, those would be examples.

Rather than indicating that you have to approve posts and profiles made by employees in your policy, state how your organization will not tolerate discrimination, hurtful comments, and the like. 

To enforce a social media policy you'll need a monitor

How strict you make your social media policy will indicate whether you will need to create a role for someone to full-time monitor all social media activity. Sure you could ask your social media team or social media manager to do this on the side, but monitoring is actually more time consuming than you might think. Ask yourself, is it worth policing your employees? The bigger question is, how much do you trust your employees?

You can only control speech on social media only so far

A social media policy does not give an organization the right to reprimand or fire an employee over what they say on social media willy nilly. Speech on social media is protected speech. The First Amendment extends to the internet, so an organization cannot dictate what or how employees communicate online. Your employees are a reflection of your brand, but your employees have the right to privacy and a space separate from their work for free expression. 

You can clearly define and make clear the consequences for discussing trade secrets or other confidential information, but if you have a social media policy that dictates what and how your employees communicate, you could end up with fines and a lawsuit from the National Labor Relations Board. 

To make sure your social media policy isn't violating any privacy rights or other laws, hire a legal counsel who specializes in organizational policy creation.

Social media policy cannot conflict with labor laws

What's more, employees have the right to discuss their working conditions online because The National Labor Relations Act gives all employees the right to engage in ‘protected concerted activity for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection.' The National Labor Relations Act also protects employees from retaliation by their employer for discussing pay, hours or working conditions. Interesting to note, cases where employees were not protected from termination were instances where the NLR saw social posts as "venting" and ruled in the favor of the employer. 

Also, an employee cannot be terminated or disciplined for social media activity that relates to a protected status: their race, religion, marital status, national origin, gender, pregnancy, age, a disability and more. Again, I recommend you enlist the help of a legal counsel to help you in the creation of your organization's social media policy.

What you should do instead of a social media policy

Social media policies are based on fear, fear that employee online conversations and behavior will damage the reputation of the organization. If you would rather dispense with fear and opt for a more positive approach, take this approach: involve your employees in your social media strategy.

Create a 'Social Media Best Practices' document that equips your employees with how to best serve your social media brand initiatives. Offer training opportunities so they can learn how to use social media better in their personal life and as an employee. Include them on social media campaigns you're running or events you would appreciate them to share.

Rather than police, censor, and instill fear in them, show your employees you value them and trust their judgement. In the process you are fostering a feeling of connectedness and collaboration, strengthening your organization from the inside out. 

As much as your customers are a big part of your reputation, so too are your employees. Why wouldn't you want your employees to be advocates of your brand? It makes managing your online reputation that much easier when your employees have your back.

Need help figuring out your social media strategy? Contact us at Geoffresh for your social media strategy needs. 

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