10 Steps to Managing Employees on Social Media

"Kyle-Beth Hilfer"

Kyle-Beth Hilfer, Esq.

[tweetmeme]As 2010 drew to a close, TIME magazine named Mark Zuckerberg its “Person of the Year.” The  power of social media as a dynamic advancement in global communications had been officially recognized. Just as the Internet transformed our nation’s economic infrastructure, social media has evolved into a powerful marketing tool.

As companies embrace social media in 2011, they should consider the role of their employees as their online representatives. Instead of prohibiting social media activity altogether (a practice that may sustain legal challenge),  companies should allow their employees a social media presence while providing some rules to govern their conversations.  Well-written policies prevent public relations disasters and potential legal liability. In addition, when done properly, they also create environments that foster productivity and loyalty among employees.

Below are 10 steps to guide employers in creating policies for their employees:

1.    CULTURE:  Are you a small company with employees who are under 30 and attached to their smart phones? Are you a large corporate employer with multiple offices and hundreds or thousands of employees to supervise? Your corporate culture will determine the specificity of your policy, its tone, its contents, and its enforcement policies.

2.     CONSISTENCY: Provide clear guidance on how to use your trademarks and copyrights consistently on the Internet. Also, caution against use of third party intellectual property without clearance. If marketing to children, the policy should delineate rules for COPPA compliance.

3.     TRANSPARENCY: Require employees, third party bloggers, and marketers to disclose their material connections to your company when posting information about your company. Otherwise, you (and they) may find themselves under investigation by the FTC for violating its Guides on Testimonials and Endorsements.

4.     CONFIDENTIALITY: Take care to protect your confidential information with a clear list of do’s and don’ts for employees. This includes any posts about project ideas or meeting locations.

5.     MEDIA: Clearly state how employees should handle media contacts. The policy should include a clear statement of how to respond if the media approaches an unauthorized employee and should direct the employee to notify the authorized personnel within the company.

6.     RESPECT: Caution employees about speaking respectfully about your company and fellow employees. You do not want to open yourself to a discrimination or harassment suit.

7.     DETAILS: Provide examples throughout your social media policy wherever possible. Employees will understand the protocol of good behavior if you provide real life examples of prohibited behavior.

8.     SEPARATION: Encourage employees to separate their professional and personal social media presence. This means separate Facebook profiles or groups and not friending professional contacts on the personal page.

9.     TRAINING: Provide hands on training sessions to employees that incorporate active discussions, hypotheticals, and role-playing. These seminars should teach employees how to behave responsibly and clearly demonstrate what the employer will not tolerate.

10. MONITOR: Monitor your employees’ online behavior, but think carefully about when to discipline and when to use the social media conversation as a chance to communicate your side of the story.  Consult an attorney to understand your rights and obligations as an employer before taking disciplinary action.

Remember that your policy needs constant updating in the changing world of social media.  Most importantly, does your company have a social media policy?

©Kyle-Beth Hilfer, P.C. 2010. Kyle-Beth Hilfer, Esq. specializes in advertising, marketing, promotions, intellectual property and new media law. For more information about her and her law practice, please visit Kyle-Beth Hilfer Law

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  1. Great article! The big companies usually implement “best” practices in the beginning but small companies don’t normally think about this type of policy as something they need until it becomes a problem.

    I offer several services to my clients and social media is often a topic. I’ll certainly refer them here.

  2. We realize that our employees have so much value to add to our social strategy and thought leadership. Getting them engaged was the challenge, given that so many fear the unknown of social media if they were not immediate adapters.

    Given that, and in line with all you outlined above, we are providing training, guidelines and incentives to get our employees jazzed about social media and how they can be brand ambassadors for our company.

    We rolled out a Yahtzee competition inside our company and have almost 50% participation by our employee base in a program that was totally optional. We’ll be tracking results through analytics and will be able to measure the success, and show our employees how much value they do in fact contribute to our social media efforts.

    Here’s a link to the story about our Yahtzee program: http://bit.ly/fjxndl

    • Wendy — congratulations! I just went into your site and read your story about the Yahtzee competition. Great idea to encourage and support your employees as they dip their toes into social media. If only more companies understood that their employees want to help the company succeed because it will mean more opportunities for them. I’ve written several blogs about employees as brand ambassadors. Here is the link to one “7 Steps to Make Your Employees Brand Ambassadors.” http://bit.ly/fFXKmx.

  3. Roberta, you hit the nail on the head. Small businesses often neglect their legal policies until there is a problem. By then, they may have opened a Pandora’s box. Early investment in legal issues is usually a small investment to stave off bigger problems in the future. Every company needs a social media policy, just the way it needs an anti-discrimination policy, e-mail policy, etc. In addition, because lots of companies feel pressure to join social media, they copy their competitors rather than developing their own marketing strategy. It’s a mistake to assume because your competitor is running a promotion on Foursquare or Facebook that it’s been vetted by legal counsel. Social media is a specialty that requires specialized legal counsel, trained in advertising and marketing law issues. Hope this helps you and your clients.

  4. Wendy, thank you for reading my post. It’s exciting that you are using social media to build the loyalty and productivity of your employees. I was most pleased to see you use the word “training” in your comment. You clearly realize that it’s not enough to have a policy. An employer must supplement the policy with training, monitoring, and enforcement (with consideration of legal consequences). The metrics side of your promotion is also interesting. It will allow you to measure the success of your social media work. Companies can use metrics on their external social media campaigns too, but in collecting data, be aware of privacy issues. See another post of mine on “Privacy Policies and Data Collection.” http://bit.ly/fKxlMT

  5. What a timely post. Just recently I was wondering how companies manage productivity with so many employees taking advantage of social media. I agree that it seems unfair to eliminate access all together and like your idea about setting parameters outlined in clear policies. In my concern about lost productivity I would not have considered it a “tool” for exposure. Interesting thought.

  6. Keyuri, thank you for commenting on my article. You clearly see the power of social media. As a coach, you must understand the need for using all kinds of motivational tools to enhance productivity. The next step after establishing a policy is training and then monitoring to help promote employees’ productivity. And then remember that social media policies and training are not static one time events. As the technology and people’s use of it evolves, policies may need to be rewritten and training revisited.

  7. Great article – rather than prohibit – set guidelines and monitor. Your #8 separation – is a really good point for those working for others but is a very difficult thing to implement when you work for yourself. I wanted to keep my business and personal FB separate and tried for the longest time to do so. However, one kept spilling into the other no matter how hard I tried to avoid it. I would be curious to hear your take on this – I am sure I could have done a better job of keeping them separate and it is probably too late now – but would be interested in hearing what I could have/should have done 🙂

  8. Julie, thanks for reading my post. For more practical advice on separation, I would have to know more about your FB page and your business. Have you looked at creating different lists of “friends” on Facebook with different privacy settings for different lists? Glad you’re proactively thinking about these issues!

  9. The most effective way to manage employees on social media is allow them to use it. With the use of social media it can help employees to get inspired and motivated that will also help them boost productivity. Our company, Time Doctor, does not block or deny social media as long as employees do their work. The company establishes an Acceptable Use Policy or Fair Use Policy that allows employees to use social media before and after work only. Using this policy it can also help you limit wasted time of employees at the same time help employees stay focused on tasks and improve productivity.

    • George — as you state, setting up a system for monitoring what employees are saying will reduce the risk of mishaps and improve morale and productivity. It’s a win-win.

  10. George, your comments on my blog post also trigger another thought. Promoting pride in being an employee of a brand and brand loyalty are two ways to assure that employees use social media properly. If there is a culture of respect for employees and a culture that promotes pride in being an employee, it is more likely that social media policies will actually serve as guides for employee conduct. Also, we need to distinguish between employees using social media for personal purposes and employees who are speaking on behalf of the company in social media. Each set of circumstances requires separate handling. Thanks for reading my post and commenting.