Writing a social media policy can be like walking on eggshells. It is a potentially overwhelming process with many things to take into consideration, from legal matters to employees’ perceptions of privacy. There are certain best practices to keep in mind when drafting your company’s social media policy: it should be comprehensive, without being too broad, and must be readily understood by all employees. Below are some guidelines and examples to help you get started on writing your policy.
Does My Company Need a Social Media Policy?
With the increasing use of social media in both our business and personal lives, it is more important than ever for companies to protect their reputations. There are several issues of importance to any company when it comes to social media use, including productivity, privacy, and host of legal matters. Therefore, organizations of all sizes, across all sectors, should seriously consider developing a formal social media policy. At the very least, an official policy should serve as a reminder for employees to use common sense when it comes to social media, and to remind them that their online activities can have consequences for the entire organization.
Legal Considerations of Social Media Policies for the UK
The Human Rights Act 1998 provides a ‘right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence.’ Relevant case law surrounding the Human Rights Act indicates that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to separating their private lives from the workplace.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 has implications for the extent to which employers can monitor or record communications that take place through the company’s networks. There are only two conditions under which an employer may lawfully intercept communications: 1) there is reasonable belief of consent on the part of the sender and recipient, or 2) the employer does not have consent but is acting to protect their business, comply with financial regulations or prevent crime.
According to the Computer Misuse Act 1990, it is an offense to use a computer to gain access to data you are not authorized to use. This means employers should not have access to employees’ social media accounts.
An emerging issue regarding the use of social media for business is the question of who owns social media accounts and the contacts that are gathered as part of a social network – the employer or the employee? Generally speaking, an employer may not claim an employee’s social media contacts (i.e., LinkedIn contacts, Facebook friends or Twitter followers) when the employee leaves the organization. It is possible that the answer to this question may be slightly different if the employer, rather than the employee, sets up the account, or if the employee is instructed to create a corporate-branded profile for business purposes (i.e., @CompanyXYZ_John). Regardless, employers who wish to claim ownership of social media accounts that employees use should assert this well in advance as part of a formal social media policy.
A corporate social media policy should be written with these regulations in mind, and should only include those aspects covered explicitly by the law. Making a social media policy too broad, violating any rights that employees should have, can be very damaging for an employer.
Creating Your Social Media Policy
Social media policies come in different shapes and sizes. They can either be a small section in your company’s employee handbook or a lengthier stand-alone document. There are some things to keep in mind when crafting your social media policy, including the size of your organization, company culture, and the nature of your business. Any well-written policy should be clear and concise, with easily understandable language free from legal jargon.
8 Key Points to Include in Your Policy
- Introduce the purpose of social media as part of your corporate strategy, be it concerning marketing, recruitment or employer branding.
- Add value – when employees publish work-related social media content, they should provide useful information or insight that is relevant to the business.
- Employees should be prohibited from sharing confidential and proprietary information online.
- Responsibility for content – employees should know to exercise good judgment and be prepared to deal with any consequences that result from inappropriate actions or statements online.
- Authenticity is critical – users of social media should identify themselves by name, and when relevant, position and company.
- Keep your audience in mind – before publishing any content, employees should ensure they are not alienating readers that may be current clients, potential clients, or past/current/future employees.
- Productivity is essential – social media efforts can only be successful if employees find a proper balance between social media and other work.
- Remember to keep it simple so that everyone can easily understand the policy.
Example Social Media Policies
- Intel has done an excellent job crafting Social Media Guidelines that are easily understood by employees, separated into 3 Rules of Engagement: disclose, protect and use common sense (as per the image above).
- Coca-Cola’s Online Social Media Principles effectively convey the organization’s vision and strategy surrounding social media use for business purposes. Their 5 Core Social Media Values are transparency, protection, respect, responsibility, and utilization.
- BBC kept the reader in mind when drafting their Guidance for Social Networking. A Summary of Main Points in the form of a bulleted list ensures that employees will grasp the most essential elements of the policy.
- IBM employees helped to create the company’s Social Computing Guidelines, which are continually under review as online social tools evolve.
- The UK Civil Service provides a colorful, reader-friendly document titled Social Media Guidance for Civil Servants, which includes an introduction to social media, guidance for various kinds of employees and resources for further information.
- Ford Motor Company’s Digital Participation Guidelines are centered on five core principles: honesty about who you are, the clarity that your opinions are your own, respect and humility in all communication, sound judgment in sharing only public information and awareness that what you say is permanent.
- Perhaps the most innovative and ‘user-friendly’ social media policy I’ve seen comes from Edmunds Inc, owner of websites built to inform automotive consumers and enthusiasts. Their unique social media guidelines, referred to as Edmunds’ Rules of the Road, are in the form of a welcoming infographic that provides clear, comprehensive and concise information for employees while successfully representing the Edmunds culture.