Social media has been common for both personal and professional use for several years – however, many companies still haven’t caught up and developed an effective social networking policy.
But there are a number of risks, too. Social media has made it easier than ever for employees to harm the company’s reputation or release confidential information. On top of that, social networking sites present a new online distraction threatening productivity.
Despite the risks, just 40% of companies currently have a social networking policy on record, according to a survey released earlier this year by the Society for Human Resources Management.
For companies developing or reviewing their rules, here’s an outline for a sample social networking policy to help get started:
Purpose of the social networking policy
An organization’s social media should be designed to protect the company from the dangers of social networks without unnecessarily infringing on employees’ personal activities or preventing the company from using social media productively.
The social media policy should include a statement of purpose that explains why the policy exists and why employees should care. For example:
- The purpose of Company XZY’s social networking policy is to allow the company to take advantage of social media’s business benefits and promote its products/services, contribute to the relevant online dialog, and better engage with customers and prospects, while avoiding the significant risks involved.
Social media use at work
A social networking policy will cover two main areas: employees’ use of social media at work, and use of social media that affects the company.
For the first point, companies must decide what level of freedom to give employees. Some employers choose to ban all use of social media sites, except when someone’s job requires it, while others choose to have different rules for different positions within the company. However, many experts recommend focusing on performance and simply warning employees about excessive social media use that interferes with their work:
- Company XYZ employees are expected to use the Internet responsibly and productively, and excessive personal Internet browsing, including social media use, is not permitted.
It’s also a good idea to remind employees about the monitoring and/or filtering technologies that may be used to enforce the social networking policy, for example:
- Company XYZ reserves the right to monitor how employees use company-owned property, including computers and networking equipment, and employees should be mindful that any and all web browsing they do on the company’s premises may be monitored.
Social media posts about the company
Distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable social media use when employees aren’t at work can be tricky. Companies want to keep employees from using those sites in ways that damage their brand and reputation — however, going too far can create trouble with the National Labor Relations Board. A company can’t forbid employees from talking freely about their working conditions, and the NLRB says that rule applies to social networking policy, too.
The key is to be specific about what online conduct the company wants to prevent:
- Employees are forbidden from using social networks to post or display comments about co-workers, supervisors or Company XYZ that are vulgar, obscene, threatening, harassing, or a violation of Company XYZ’s policies on discrimination or harassment.
- Employees may not use social networks to disclose any confidential or proprietary information about Company XYZ or its employees, customers or business partners.
- When appropriate, employees should disclose their relationship with Company XYZ in their online posts and refrain from speaking on behalf of Company XYZ when not authorized.
Also, a social networking policy can simply remind employees to use common sense when they publish something online and to follow normal workplace policy during online interactions:
- Company XYZ employees should keep in mind that they are personally responsible for what they post online and be mindful that what they say will be available publicly for a long time.
- Social media use is subject to the same workplace policies employees must follow in other situations, including but not limited to Company XYZ’s policies regarding harassment, discrimination, defamation, confidentiality, non-competition and general Internet use.