[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.