Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy… Now.

policy 1 |ˈpäləsē|

noun (pl. policies)

A course or principle of action adopted or proposed by a government, party, business, or individual.
Prudent or expedient conduct or action.

If you work for a company, there’s a good chance you’re expected to follow corporate policies. Companies implement a set of guiding principles and procedures to regulate employee behavior in light of accepted business strategies and objectives. A policy is the strategic link between the company vision and its daily operations. A solid business policy allows employees to clearly understand their roles and responsibilities within predefined limits. Call it freedom with frameworks.

Why you Need a Specific Social Media Policy?

You may be thinking my company has plenty of rules already. Shouldn’t they cover social media activity? Do we really need more rules? The short answer is yes. Here’s why. Social media is quickly moving from an emerging form of communication to the mainstream. People are talking about companies and brands online without their permission or participation. Your company has a social media presence even if it has never posted a word on Facebook or Twitter. Not surprisingly, many of the people talking about your company are employees. This is both good and potentially really bad. When an employee talks about his or her company, they lend credibility to their posts. Unfortunately, employees also have access to sensitive information that can be disastrous if shared.

When you create a specific social media policy it removes the guesswork. Everyone knows what’s the appropriate behavior when using social networks.

What’s in a Social Media Policy?

Forming a social media policy is about identifying areas where your company is vulnerable and addressing them. Understand that as technology evolves, the policy will morph too. “They should be about educating workers to use common sense when they use social media,” says lawyer Arkady Bukh in Entrepreneur magazine.

For companies in regulated industries, such as healthcare or finance, it’s imperative to outline what is considered confidential or protected information. In this area, consider investing in a social media compliance software program. Cafyne comes pre-coded with the rules of HIPAA, FINRA, FFIEC and more. It’s compliance engine works behind the scenes to keep your company compliant.

A social media policy can do more than avert problems. Clear guidelines also help employees understand ways they can use social media to achieve business goals. For example, tell employees how commenting on blogs or social networks can boost brand awareness and drive traffic to your company’s site. Need help getting started? Here are examples of corporate social media policies.

How to Train Employees on a Social Media Policy?

To err is human. It’s not enough to have a social media policy. Employers should put equal time in to training employees as they do in creating the policy. More training will reduce the probability of mistakes. Here are some tips to educate your staff on the new policy.

  1. Make your social media policy a separate document from the employee handbook. Let’s face it, aside from skimming the dress code and benefits pages, how many employees really read the employee handbook? The more accessible and concise your social media policy is, the better likelihood your employees will read it.
  2. Incorporate the social media policy into all new employee onboarding programs. This is when new employees are soaking up the culture. Wrapping the policy into the program shows that it’s important to the company.
  3. Keep in mind that many violations are due to ignorance. The majority of social media users don’t have a full understanding of the platform’s features. For example, when should you send a direct message on Twitter? Or when was your last Privacy Checkup on Facebook? Educating staff on these features may take some work upfront, but it’s worth the effort if it prevents an accidental breach of information.
  4. Be upfront about expectations of employee use of social media, whether it’s on behalf of the company and on personal accounts. Employers must disclose to staff that they have no right to privacy on social networks. “Employers reserve the right to monitor employee use of social media regardless of location (i.e. at work on a company computer or on personal time with a home computer),”says Eric B. Meyer, an Associate in the Labor and Employment Group of Dilworth Paxson LLP.
  5. Be consistent. Company policies on anti-harassment, ethics and loyalty extend to all forms of communication both inside and outside the workplace. Employees should know that bashing your organization, boss or colleagues online could lead to real-life consequences at work.
  6. Finally, be mindful that in this world of virtual conversations, a little in-person communication goes a long way. Encourage employees to bring grievances to a supervisor or HR before pulling out a smart phone. While employees have no rights to privacy on social media, new labor laws favor employees that air gripes on personal accounts. In January 2012, the U.S. National Labor Board ruled that employees have a right to talk about working conditions on social media. “Many view social media as the new water cooler,” said Mark G. Pearce, the board’s chairman, in the New York Times. In light of new rules, he said, “all we’re doing is applying traditional rules to a new technology.”