Social Media Policy
Quick! Answer this question in 5 seconds. Ready? OK, here goes....
What is your company's employee social media policy?
I'm going to take a guess that the responses to that question for most of you was either (a) we don't have one, or (b) what's a social media policy?
Importance of Social Media Policy
Every company should have a social media policy in place. This will be a set of written guidelines that eliminate as much gray area as possible from the employer and the employees. Most employees are at-will, meaning that they can be terminated for any non-discriminatory reason allowed under the law. However, just because you can fire an employee for posting something dumb doesn't mean that you should - especially if it was never expressed to them what was allowed and not allowed.
Increasingly, common sense is becoming a rarity. Additionally, as each generation enters the workforce, the use of social media by that generation increases. The things they are willing to share to what they believe is a "limited" audience become more and more scandalous, unbelieveable, and obnoxious. While you may not be able to teach your version of common sense to your employees, you can provide them with guidance on what you identify as appropriate and inappropriate.
The goal of a social media policy is two fold. First, you want to minimize risk to your company through negative public backlash. Negative media is bad for business, but it is even worse when that negative media is created by an employee. Second, you want employees to understand why they should not say certain things. While many may question your imposition on their freedom, the reality is that their opinions are a reflection on your company, good and bad. When they shout inappropriate things online and have a clear connection to your company, the employee needs to understand that is no different than standing on the front desk at the office and yelling the same thing to all customers within earshot.
What the Policy Should Include
When drafting your social media policy, you want to make sure and include some examples. While many people can just hear the rule and run with it, more people require specific examples to show them just how they might get themselves in trouble. Or, in the alternative, what types of social media sharing is acceptable.
Explain that failure to comply with the social media policy could result in immediate termination from employment. It is very important that your employees are aware that this is serious and that their irresponsible posts will not be tolerated.
What the Policy Should Not Include
Please do not seek to make your policy draconian in nature. Realize that you are dealing with human beings who make mistakes. If the mistake they made is not damaging to the company's reputation, find a way to cut a break. Likewise, do not try to impose your own personal belief system of right and wrong into the company's social media policy. Most people believe their way is right, or the way they were raised was the best. However, in the real world and in the 21st century, there are many ways of believing and doing. Just because you would not think of posting personal information or your political beliefs online does not mean it is patently wrong. Be objective, not subjective.
Also, many states have already outlawed, and many states will be outlawing employers requesting employees to turn over their social media passwords. This is an invasion of privacy and courts are striking these silly rules down left and right. Besides, they do not work anyway because all the employee has to do is open a new account under a different name and tell their friends how to find them. They learned that one in high school...
To make sure you are falling on the right side of the law, consult a qualified business attorney to help you draft your social media policy. The goal is to minimize negative exposure of your company through employees' actions without stepping on first amendment rights. But you must straddle that fine line between minimizing risk and having dictator like control over your employees. There are fair ways to do this so that your employees know what they can and cannot say, as well as why the company is instituting this type of policy.