When does a social media policy go too far? 3 keys

One organization decided it needed to crack down on its employees making negative and inflammatory statements online. It learned the hard way that those actions could have unintended consequences. 

South Pittsburg, TN, was having issues with negative publicity stemming from something users said online, according to its town commissioner. So it instituted a social media policy that banned volunteers, users and contractors from  “publicly discus[ing] information about other employees and/or volunteers not approved for public communication” on social media.

This policy extended to Facebook and Twitter. And while users were free to post all they wanted to, those posts couldn’t “shed a negative light on any person, entity, board or things of that nature.” And it stated that employees should have “no expectation of privacy whatsoever.”

That was a bridge too far for some. The town’s Facebook page has been flooded with negative posts complaining that workers are being unfairly silenced.

First amendment issues

The problem: When an employer bans talking negatively about a company or organization online, full stop, it creates a sticky situation with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). When workers are forbidden from criticizing management over pay, working conditions or workplace rules, it creates a workers’ rights issue, according to NLRB.

But unless and until a South Pittsburg worker files an unfair labor charge against the employer, it’s out of NLRB’s hands to take any action on the policy.

Social media policies that work

This doesn’t mean that users have free reign to post anything and everything on their accounts. And it doesn’t mean that you company can’t have social media policies.

But here are three keys for safer policies that companies can implement:

  1. Focus on safety. First and foremost, make sure your social media policy covers which behaviors can and can’t be conducted from work computers. Rather than focusing on the content of posts alone, focus on the dangers inherent to these sites, such as phishing and malware.
  2. Emphasize productivity. Users should be limited on how much time they can spend on these sites while at work. You may choose to block social media sites altogether from work systems or to discourage employees from spending too much time on them.
  3. Define and provide examples. If your policy states that inflammatory, abusive, insubordinate or other comments aren’t allowed, you need to clearly define these statements and their scope. You may also want to emphasize good posting etiquette, such as “think before you post, and be civil and considerate of others on social media.”

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