What exactly is “social media misuse”? That overly broad term can encompass any type of social media posting that harms the employer or a third party. Misuse can include disclosure of confidential information, discrimination, harassment, misrepresenting the organization’s views, making disparaging remarks about the organization, or making disparaging remarks about employees or customers. Consequences can range from mildly embarrassing, as when an employee makes a comment that puts the company in a bad light, to the downright damaging. Disclosure of confidential information or harassing or discriminatory remarks can cause the organization to become liable for corrective action.
A well-crafted company social media policy can help protect your organization from these exposures by outlining whether social media posts must be cleared and by whom, what employees can and cannot say, and consequences for violations. It should also spell out your organization’s policies toward accessing social media during work hours, whether your organization monitors online activity and what employees can expect in terms of online privacy, if anything. In fact, your “social media policy” might not be one policy, but many, and incorporated into several existing policies and documents.
The following suggestions provide a starting point for crafting your own social media policy. Every company differs, however, and if you have extensive online activities, an IPO in the near future or pending litigation or complaints, you will probably want to have your policies reviewed by an attorney.
- Determine whether employees can access social media from company networks or on work time. In the 2013/14 Social Media in the Workplace survey by Proskauer Rose LLP, a law firm, 36 percent of employers actively block access to social media sites, up from 29 percent the year before.
- Consider restricting “official” business communications to the public through social media to specific individuals with media training. Publicly traded companies will probably want to have an experienced investor relations professional handle social media communications to avoid potential problems. They should also understand what information and data is confidential, such as intellectual property, material non-public information, personnel information and financial records. Employees should also know the basics about copyright/trademark protections, and what they can and cannot post as “fair use.”
- Establish policies that govern whether your employees may discuss or endorse your business in public and rules about how to do so ethically. Employees should identify themselves as employees if discussing the business in a public forum. If they must post a personal opinion on a business matter, they should clearly state that it is a personal opinion and they are not speaking as a representative of the business.
- Create policies outlining appropriate/inappropriate language, harassment and respecting colleagues and competitors in social media posts. (Your company’s email policy should already contain similar requirements.)
- Create policies outlining appropriate and inappropriate communications about your business in public and semi-private forums. If your company is publicly traded, remember that fair disclosure rules apply to social media posts as well. Some social media (such as Twitter) don’t allow room for disclosures. Overly optimistic postings might constitute “forward-looking” communications. And using social media to disclose “material nonpublic information” to individuals who might trade on that information might not constitute “full and fair disclosure” under SEC rules.
- Develop procedures to monitor social media activity. Ideally, you will have trained media professionals on staff or on retainer to monitor and respond to social media mentions of your organization.
- Train executives and managers responsible for policy enforcement to understand the laws that protect employee communications. This includes the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which protects workers’ rights to discuss wages, working conditions or union organizing with co-workers or a union, and other labor activities.
- Put your policy in writing and include it in your employee handbook. Have employees acknowledge, in writing, their receipt of the policy and their agreement to adhere to it.
Guidelines for Company Social Media Use
Share with communicators, managers and employees!
- The Internet is not anonymous, nor does it forget. Everything posted on the web can be traced back to its author.
- No clear line between your work life and your personal life exists. Always be honest and respectful in both capacities.
- Avoid posting or linking to any materials that are defamatory, harassing or indecent.
- Do not promote personal projects, or endorse other brands, causes or opinions.
- Respect third-party copyrights.
- If you must post a personal opinion, clearly state this does not represent the opinions of the business.
- Do not post confidential or proprietary information related to the business or its clients. Always adhere to your clients’ policies and procedures for confidentiality and social media.
- Do not pad your own statistics. Do not create anonymous or pseudonymous online profiles to pad link or page view statistics. Do not comment on your own or others’ posts to create a false sense of support.
- Always track back. When reposting or referencing a post on one of your business’ online sites, provide a link to the original post or story.
- Identify yourself. When relevant, identify your affiliation with the business and your area of concentration.
- Do not pat yourself on the back. Do not post self-laudatory statements regarding your work or that of the business.
- Do not post statements regarding the quality of your work or of the business.
- Do not promote successes. Don’t report business results or outcomes or use words like “successfully,” “favorably,” “won” or “prevailed” in describing your business representations.
- Do not return fire. If you find a negative post or comment about your business or yourself, do not counter with another negative post. Instead, publicly offer to remedy the situation through positive action.
- Do not offer or appear to offer legal advice, professional expertise or to form client relationships using social media. Formation of these relationships must be done only through your business’ regular procedures to avoid conflicts and other ethical problems.
Source: FDIC’s Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OM WI).