6 Questions to Ask When Creating a Social Media Policy

Oct 21, 2013
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Social media is not your enemy. Your organization needs parameters around social media use. Start with a simple policy and spend time educating your team. If you’re trying to determine whether your company needs to establish a social media policy, consider the following.

Do I need one?

If you want to mitigate your risk in this area, the answer is yes. Rich Nadworny for Social Media Today provides a simple answer: “The need for having an internal social policy is simple: it reduces risk. In reality, the social policy is most likely a variation on other internal, employee documents. One advantage it does have is that it clearly states what behavior is allowed and forbidden in specific social channels.”

If you decide to implement a policy, you’ll need to make sure you review it regularly and make updates as needed. This policy is a “living” document that needs to change as the social media environment changes. Understand that limiting social media use can restrict your employees and limit their ability to act as brand ambassadors. Encourage use and demonstrate proper ways to use social media. Social media can be a win-win for everyone, if used properly.

What if I don’t have one? Or I don’t want one?

Just because you don’t have a social media policy, doesn’t mean you get to ignore it. If your answer to “How do we manage social media?” is to not have a policy, that’s like sweeping it under the rug and hoping everything will be okay. Your employees are using social media pretty often, using your computers and mobile devices from your office space (and of course most have their own smart phones).

Sure, maybe you don’t implement a formal policy, but providing education and discussion around the use of social media will do wonders for your employees, your brand, and your customers.

What does the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have to do with social media use in my organization?

You may think that the NLRB doesn’t apply to you if you don’t have organized unions. However, in an effort to protect concerted activity among employees, (private or unionized) the NLRB has ruled that an employer may not dismiss an employee for posting online comments about wages, performance or workplace responsibilities.

The NLRB states that protected concerted activity generally refers to two or more employees acting together to improve wages or working conditions, but the action of a single employee may be considered concerted if he or she involves coworkers before acting, or acts on behalf of others. Don’t worry though, personal gripes and malicious or threatening behavior is not protected.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), Section 7, provides guidance on social media actions that are protected under the law. The NLRB ruled sweeping policies that are too broad or general are seen as problematic because they prohibit discussion around workplace issues that are meant to bring about solutions. Such discussions include, for example, concerted activity for the purpose of collective bargaining, or for other mutual aid or protection to prove unfair pay practices. It is important to note that employees are protected under Section 7, managers are not.

Given the NLRB ruling, you’ll notice the following Costco example is NOT a reasonable statement to include in the employee handbook: (example provided by PillsburyLaw.com)

The Costco Decision
Costco Wholesale Corp., 358 NLRB No. 106 (Sept. 7, 2012)

The Costco handbook:
“Employees should be aware that statements posted electronically (such as to online message boards or discussion groups) that damage the Company, defame any individual or damage any person’s reputation or violate the policies outlined in Costco’s Employee Agreement, may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment.”

The NLRB Ruling:
The NLRB rejected this policy because it was overbroad and “would reasonably tend to chill employees” in the exercise of their rights to engage in “concerted activity” as set forth in Section 7 of the NLRA. So, as the Costco handbook was written, employees were prohibited from engaging in protected communications, which violated Section 7 of the NLRA. Time for a rewrite!

What items should be included?

A well-written policy will be simple and specific. If it’s too broad and impossible for a reasonable person to understand, it’s going to be invalid and get you into trouble with the NLRB.

Your best approach is to list examples of good ways to utilize social media, across all platforms. Provide education on what can injure the company’s reputation or that of the employee. Encourage social media participation. If you provide an environment and culture that supports social media, you can turn your employees into brand ambassadors, helping you to drive your customer base and increase your market share.

Finally, be sure to indicate what sort of company information can be shared. Some is proprietary and strictly confidential. But not all employees are aware of this…so teach them.

Which companies have well-thought-out social media policies?

Check out Best Buy and Walmart for great examples. Helpful? Totally!

How should irresponsible social media use be handled?

You may remember hearing about a waitress who was fired for posting a customer’s receipt online or the guy who licked a stack of tacos while working at, you guessed it, Taco Bell, and then posted the photo on Facebook. Those are definitely “ouch” moments for huge brands…it’s going to happen….maybe not precisely that way, but you’ll eventually experience a negative moment. It’s better to get out in front of the potential issues and train your employees on how to best represent themselves and the company.

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