Does Your Company Need a Social Media Policy?

Well, that depends. Are you an organization of one? Then you might be okay. As long as you don’t accidentally sleep-tweet.

For everyone else, the answer is yes.

Even if you think you have the best employees, who would never post anything inappropriate, confidential, or offensive— you still need to have a policy in place. Not only will this help set the ground rules for social media use at work, it will also spell out the consequences for if – or more likely when – things go awry.

Still not convinced?

It’s understandable. You’ve built a great culture and hired fantastic employees who share the same core values. Things are going super smoothly. You’re not worried at all.

Until you are.

All it takes is one post, from one person, on or off the clock, and you’ve got yourself a situation.

They don’t call it going viral for nothing. Social media moves at the speed of light, and social media scandals move even faster. People will seize on a controversial post or idea immediately. They won’t wait to react. They won’t adhere to your time zone or schedule. You could go to sleep one night worry-free and wake up to a serious problem.

In this scenario, your reaction time needs to be equally swift. But that’s hard to do if you don’t have a framework for how these situations will be handled. And the last thing you want to hear from an employee after the fact is, “I didn’t know!”

Avoid the confusion

Putting out fires as they happen is exhausting. Why not take a lesson from Smokey the Bear and try to prevent them instead? Or at least put an emergency action plan in place for when the flames come rolling through?

A comprehensive social media policy will help you effectively deal with issues when they arise. It will also let your employees know what your expectations are and what happens if they don’t follow them.

Here are some key things to include when putting your plan together:

Social media use at the workplace

  • On company accounts
  • On company devices
  • On company time

Social media use on personal accounts

  • Sharing confidential information about your company, coworkers, and/or clients
  • Inflammatory comments and/or hate speech
  • Harmful, negative or damaging comments about your job, colleagues, and company
  • Personal blogging about workplace issues

Inappropriate usage

  • Using photos or video without consent
  • Harassment or bullying
  • Confidentiality breaches
  • Discrimination

But what about networking?

Ah, yes. Social networking. Often, this is a significant part of our career lives. Many employers encourage and expect participation on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others, which brings up additional questions that need to be addressed.

  • Who can friend who? Is it appropriate for HR to connect with employees? Should supervisors be friends with reports?
  • Can managers make professional recommendations for their current reports? Could these recommendations be used against your company if an employee is subsequently terminated?
  • What kinds of photos and videos are appropriate for posting? Do you require consent before sharing?

You may think privacy is dead, but here’s a little something to consider: I once met a woman who declined being in a “fun” workplace photo for Facebook because she had escaped from an abusive relationship in the past. Her former partner didn’t know where she was and she was terrified at the prospect of being found. Now, just imagine if I had snapped that photo and posted it without a second thought. A small thing to me, a big thing to her.

And that, my friends, is the point.

Something that could seem harmless, clever, or hilarious to one person can often be harmful, offensive, or downright devastating to another.

Any organization that wants to win the hearts of consumers, clients, staff, vendors, and advertisers needs to recognize the critical importance of what is being said and done online.

If you don’t have a social media policy in place, now is the time to create one. If you do have a social media policy in place, you’ll want to revisit it annually to see if it’s still relevant to your current organizational structure, processes, and online activities. 

Make sure your policy aligns with your company code of ethics to paint a clear picture of how your core values guide organizational actions and behaviors, then spell out what behaviors are appropriate and what behaviors are prohibited. Include detailed information about the consequences of not following protocol, and have someone go over this policy with each new employee during the onboarding process.

It’s a work in progress

Never assume that simply having a policy in place will protect you from social media blowups. Also never assume that your employees will instinctively know how and what to post based on the set of rules you’ve put together.

Lead by example and teach your employees how to use social media effectively. Host social media clinics and LinkedIn lessons. Assign media mentors and have people work in teams. Consider putting a vetting process in place for what goes out on company pages, and always follow the gut-check rule: If a potential post causes you to hesitate for any reason, listen to your intuition and hit delete.

You’ll never lose sleep over that bad post that didn’t go out. But you can lose a lot more that that over the one that does.


Photo by Ion Chiosea