Why Every Company Needs an Accurate Social Media Policy

"Social Media Policy"In the past week, news flew about employee comments on social media. In two cases, it was pretty obvious the employees stepped over the line because they posted particularly offensive comments on their company’s official Twitter account.

In another case, a company fired an employee after it won its case before The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) citing what it considered to be an employee’s inappropriate comment on Facebook.

Communicating Your Policy

Does your company have a social media policy that has been communicated and explained to all employees? Do your employees understand it so that your company can avoid embarrassment over the posting of inappropriate content?

Having a policy doesn’t guarantee that the policy is accurate. The NLRB issued a report in May that focused on seven social media policies governing employees’ use of social media.

In six out of seven cases the NLRB found the employer social media policies to be unlawful. Here is the NLRB Social Media Report that describes the NLRB’s decisions in detail. 

Where Employees Went Wrong

Here are the posts on corporate Twitter accounts that drew the media likes flies to honey:

Kitchen Aid. After the first Presidential debate, a KitchenAid employee posted this on the company’s Twitter handle: “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president.” It was meant to go out on the employee’s personal Twitter handle. It drew many angry responses on Twitter.

The company deleted it and sent out this tweet:

KitchenAid apology tweet

StubHub. You can imagine StubHub’s embarrassment and anger at this employee’s tweet: “Thank fuck it’s Friday! Can’t wait to get out of this stubsucking hell hole.”

The company removed this post and tweeted:

StubHub twitter apology

Drafting Your Company’s Policy

The first step is to draft a social media policy if you don’t have one already. Some companies avoid this because they are afraid that social media is changing so rapidly that the policy won’t cover every contingency. But that just leaves them wide open to employees misuse of social media because they don’t know what’s allowed or not allowed.

Kyle-Beth Hilfer, Esq., an attorney specializing in social media, wrote a post on this topic that offers some excellent advice: Drafting Social Media Policies to Minimize Legal Risk of an NLRB Complaint.

The website Social Media Governance contains 217 corporate social media policies, and the list keeps growing. You can peruse that list for social media policy best practices.

Let Your Employees Socialize

Many companies forbid their employees from engaging in any social media, either for the company or their own personal accounts. This can be counterproductive. First, the company is at a disadvantage with their competitors who are successfully engaging their employees as brand ambassadors on social media.

Secondly, the company loses control over content that employees are posting to social media accounts that do not include their names.

It all comes down to trusting your employees to say and do the right things on social media and 99% of the time they will. Sure, there are exceptions like the KitchenAid and StubHub brouhahas. That’s why they make news.

Employees want to grow in their jobs and they want their companies to be successful. Working together, companies and employees can use the might of social media to create a win-win for both sides.

Does your company have a social media policy? Is it working? If you don’t have a policy, why not?

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Comments

  1. Good article Jeannette, and as you know, I agree with you.

    It’s amazing isn’t it that companies don’t understand that when an employee writes such comments online the whole world can read them. It’s one thing if an employees says something to someone somewhere, but broadcasting it online search engines record everything and forget nothing.

    • Catarina — It’s unfortunate that there are no second chances with social media. Once you’ve posted a article or said something you regret you can’t take it back. That applies to individuals as well as companies. The upside is that people can learn about all the good things you’ve done. But also the bad.

  2. It seems to me a company could easily create a social media policy for employees. After all, most companies still have some kind of employee handbook with vacation policies and the like.

    But it’s really more about an individual’s common sense and using social media appropriately.

    Maybe it’s both employees and employers who need to make some changes to their behavior.

    Good post.

    • Pat – you’re right. Most companies do have employee handbooks with all their other policies. I think social media is still so knew that companies don’t know how to handle it, so they just say “no” to employees posting for the company and even their own personal accounts if they are in a regulation industry. It’s changing, but slowly.

  3. Pat made a very good point about employees handbook. Maybe it is a case of over complicating the whole thing or they are being given wrong advice. Companies will need a social media policy and they can’t ignore it.

    • Susan — Companies do over-complicate things. It’s true that a number of people need to be involved in creating a social media policy: HR, Legal, Compliance (in a regulated company) and marketing. But they have to be involved in developing new products and services, too. They seem to be able to do that OK.

  4. My former school did not have a social media policy per se for the teachers and most social sites were banned for student use at school. Schools definitely need clear-cut policies. If I was still teaching, there is no way I would be as active on social media as I am now. Some parent would take issue with my views and find a way to get me fired!

    • Jeri — I hate to think that a teacher’s free speech could be muzzled by parents. That’s the essence of education – the ability to discuss all sides of an issue.

  5. WOW, It truly does take all kinds. I am a company of one. My policy is strictly G rates stuff or I’ll fire my butt… LOL.

    In all seriousness, we did have a policy at my former company. We found we needed to review it a few times a year to avoid any problems. You do have to ask yourself, where does common sense play a part in all of this? Have we lost it somewhere… Big SIGH!

    • Susan — the fact is that most companies already have policies in place for what employees can and can’t do (like give away intellectual property). As you said, it’s just common sense.

  6. You’re right. As an old boss used to say, “Let’s go for the 70% solution.” If you seek perfection, you’ll never do anything, including writing a social media policy.

  7. Personally, we don’t have a policy. Any freelancers I bring on don’t have access to the twitter account, but I do ask them to sign an NDA preventing them from posting their work with Salvatier Studios through multiple social media outlets. It’s a good idea though, especially when you read the StubHub tweet. Sheesh.

    • Dennis — Very interesting. I hadn’t thought about a policy for freelancers. As you mentioned, they would be free to post their work with commentary claiming credit when in fact it is work they’ve done for your client.

  8. I so agree with the thought: Let your employees socialise. Induction trainings for new hires should also deal with how to use social media responsibility.

    • Lubna — you make a very good point. New employees should be trained on social media the first day they arrive for work.

  9. You would think a policy would always be implemented. I haven’t been in this situation yet, but this is good advice.

  10. Jeannette,
    Thanks for the link to the Social Media Governance site. I was unfamiliar with it and it looks like a great resource.

    I’m honestly amazed that companies such as KitchenAid and StubHub wouldn’t have better control of their online presence. That’s such a huge part of their brand and it needs to be protected. How in the world did those individuals have access to their Twitter account? Obviously it happens. Your post should serve as a warning to all.

    • Sherry — glad to let you know about the site with many social media policies. Yes, you wonder how these companies can lose control of their own social media accounts. And you wonder what employees are thinking when they post such egregious comments to their own personal accounts. Do they think they won’t be found out?

  11. Great reminder for all the companies out there that are using any form of social media. These days, it’s so much easier for a company to boost or ruin itself with social media. Unfortunately, I don’t think that too many employees, especially those that have been assigned to handle the company’s internet marketing strategies how delicate things can be here. Saddest part of it is that when you become strict in enforcing such policies, some of them would even consider it as a case of barring their right to freedom of expression and speech.

    • Adeline — You’re right. Many companies don’t understand the implication of even the simplest things, like forcing people to register. It’s not user friendly.