What can your organization do to guide employees into correctly balancing their rights to free speech and personal use of social media, while also protecting the brand and reputation of your company?
Many organizations have backed off documenting a policy that addresses employee and affiliate social media personal use. They have done so most notably because a) it is hard to draw a line in the sand between the personal and professional use of social media, b) it is harder still to enforce a personal use special media policy, and c) the unevenness of laws that govern employee rights from country to country makes it nearly impossible to create a sound policy on personal use special media policy that won’t end up entangling the organization in costly lawsuits or regulatory fines.
So, what can your organization do to guide employees into correctly balancing their rights to free speech and personal use of social media, while also protecting the brand and reputation of your company? Consider the following guidelines:
- Organizational representation: Be clear about where you stand as an organization with regard to asking employees to be your online champions and advocates. Recognize that asking employees to engage in social media allows your organization to magnify its voice, but that magnification will be there at all times – both good and bad. While you might get additional followers, likes, or positive sentiments in the market, a single misstep by an employee or an affiliate can thrust your organization into social media crisis response mode. Regardless of what you decide, think through the possible implications and if and how you want to deal with the fallout.
- Existing guidance: You likely already have a code of conduct policy and an employee handbook. They address – or should address – your expectations of employees in the workplace as well as outside the workplace. Stipulations such as never disclose confidential information, don’t badmouth the company, be honest and transparent in how you treat customers, etc. are outlined. Given that you have already spelled out employee expectations through these other mechanisms, you should not need to restate them in a social media policy. In fact, you shouldn’t need to do anything. If you are so inclined, however, you could remind employees of their existing obligations and note that these duties apply online as well as to the analog world.
- Monitoring and enforcement: Unless you are going to monitor and enforce a policy, you are better off creating a set of guidelines for employees to reference when they are using their personal social media platforms. Remember that monitoring – via social media listening or simply through company-sponsored social media combing – is a resource-intensive effort that likely to yield little return on investment. That is because it is nearly impossible to predict or even catch bad online behavior. Guidelines or FAQs can be highly effective in positively influencing those who are invested in their jobs and your organization and who are looking for guidance on how to avoid negative social media outcomes for everyone involved. For everyone else, they will likely misstep, which may be related to your organization (or not). Whatever the case, you will need to follow your human resources protocols on how to address the issue. The rules of engagement will probably be no different than if an individual disclosed confidential information at a conference or badmouthed his or her boss at a party.
- Culture and knowledge: Social media policies were an absolute necessity for most organizations in the 2007–2013 timeframe. As social media has matured, and staff members with it, a call for employees to use common sense and proper training tends to be more effective than any single policy you can devise.
- Governance resources: A policy is great, but it is one more thing to maintain and update. Are you ready to commit to such maintenance? Moreover, is the investment worth your while? For most organizations, a policy is still something that gets created and then in short order becomes yet another outdated document whose ownership gets passed around like a hot potato.
So, before you move forward on creating or updating your social media policy, consider these aspects. Ask yourself, “What am I really trying to achieve with the policy tool?” If you decide to still provide guidance, consider the following industry best practice examples:
- Intel: This guidance works because it is simple and honest, recognizing what the company can and cannot ask of employees and boiling that intel down into three simple “asks.” Not only is the guidance straightforward, but it is written in plain language that is very easy to digest.
- Coca Cola: Here is a set of comprehensive guidelines, appropriately titled Social Media Principles. The principles address all roles related to social media, from personal use to those speaking on behalf of Coca Cola and affiliates. What the principles ask individuals to do is reasonable and within the law. Most importantly, it is a sustainable set of guidance for such a large enterprise.
- New York Times: In addition to being sound, common sense guiding principles for personal use of social media (i.e., “Before you post, ask yourself: Is this something that needs to be said, is it something that needs to be said by you, and is it something that needs to be said by you right now?”) the Times’ guidelines request feedback and commentary on the guidance. This allows for a dialogue versus a one-way conversation around expectations between the Times and its journalists and affiliates.
- Dell: Here is an example of an actual policy. I don’t have firsthand experience with Dell, so I can’t speak to the rationale of creating a policy over other types of guidance. But the company did do a good job of expressing what is formally expected versus what it would like employees to do. Being clear on what is mandatory behavior in employees’ personal use of social media versus what the organization hopes staff members will do is the first step to a realistic and reasonable digital policy.
- Boeing: The company chose to roll its personal media use expectations into its ethical business conduct guidelines for employees, and it incorporated the requirements into training. This serves as a perfect illustration of how to set expectations and support them through rollout and training. It also provides a great model for large, distributed enterprises.
Need more advice on creating your social media guidance or help with documenting your organization’s stance on employee personal use of social media? Get in touch.