It's Time to Review Your Company's Social Media Policy
The widespread use of social media by employees in the workplace can create a multitude of liabilities for employers. The risks include decreased productivity among users and the negative impact an unfavorable post can have on a company's reputation and brand. Employees who visit social networking sites at work can also expose their computers and the company networks to attacks from malware. While federal and state government entities are paying close attention to the security risks associated with the growing use of social media, private employers tend to lag far behind. Due to the various risks associated with social media and the workplace, many employers wonder to what extent they can regulate their employee's online activities and whether they can take legal action based on a worker's off-the-clock conduct.
All Employers Should Adopt a Customized Social Media Policy
Employees use social media platforms to share news, content, and aspects of their lives. Facebook was one of the first social networking sites that made connecting and sharing information online easy for users. As a result, Facebook became the world's largest social network and now boasts nearly 3 billion users worldwide. While Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are considered some of the more traditional forms of social media, new variations continue to be developed. More recent apps like TikTok and BeReal have evolved in ways that now incentivize users to share workplace content. Considering this changing technology, and the potential risks involved, one of the best ways employers can protect themselves from the challenges associated with their employees' prolific use of social media is to adopt a customized social media policy that provides regulatory guidelines for all staff members.
What is a Social Media Policy?
A social media or social networking policy is a corporate code of conduct that establishes clear and concise guidelines for employees who post content on the internet. An effective social media policy will set expectations for appropriate behavior and reduce the likelihood that an employee's social media posts will expose the company to legal problems. Since many employees spend a significant amount of time on various social media platforms, regular use in the workplace can lead to security breaches, lower productivity, and a lack of confidence in your brand if employees post uncomplimentary or confidential information. Developing a solid social media policy can help employees become aware of the implications of improper social media use. Adopting a policy can also help your company maintain its reputation through specific, actionable guidelines for posting content and responding to comments online.
Establishing a Social Media Policy for Your Company
Social media is a form of digital technology that allows users to instantly generate and share information with the public. It is also an essential tool that enables employees to communicate professionally and personally with others. To protect themselves and ensure the organization's safety, employers should consider drafting, implementing, and enforcing a social media policy to avoid risk. Crafting a customized social media policy explicitly created for your organization will help reduce the risk of an employee unintentionally or intentionally exposing confidential or private information about your company to their followers. A social media policy can also guide all social media use for all your employees. Whether your staff uses these sites during work hours or at home, an effective social media policy can help increase your business's productivity, efficiency, and security.
How to Create a Social Media Policy
There are steps your organization can take to create an effective social media policy for your business:
· Establish Company Expectations
Define limits for what is and is not acceptable for employees to do on their personal social media accounts when discussing the company. Seek input from company stakeholders in all departments. For example, if one of your employees finds a negative post about your company and is tempted to respond, it is wise to have procedures in place for the communications department to address any disparaging comments. Ensure that all employees understand the importance of this expectation by explaining it thoroughly in your social media policy.
· Assigning a Social Media Task Force
Assign members of your IT department to manage aspects of the social media policy. For example, one of your specialists could grant and restrict access to your business's social media account. Provide names and contact information for employees who may have questions.
· Developing Security Protocols
Develop security protocols for personal internet use during business hours or while using company assets such as company WIFI and company issued laptop and smartphones.
· Implementing a Social Media Crisis Plan
All companies should have a plan in place for addressing social media PR crises. These issues can occur when a disgruntled former employee uploads a negative post on your organization's social accounts before their access is revoked or when an unhappy client decides to vent online. Guidelines for handling these types of incidents can include the definition of a crisis, communication plans, and the individuals and departments designated to manage the issue quickly and effectively.
· Complying with State and Federal Law
Review all state and federal laws regarding privacy, confidentiality, and copyrights.
· Establishing Guidelines for Personal Social Media Use.
Employers should provide the staff with clear guidelines regarding using personal social media in and out of the workplace. Share information about how social media posting can affect the success of your organization, even when employees publish information outside the workplace.
· Posting the Policy in Multiple Locations
Include your social media policy in your employee handbook, on the company intranet site, and in print form. Distribute your policy to all employees by providing a link to your intranet site, posting the policy in breakrooms and highly trafficked workplace areas, and providing paper copies.
Information to Include in Your Social Media Policy
Standard employee social media policies will serve as a guide to those using the company's social media sites and personal accounts. Social media employee policies generally include the following information:
Managing Social Media: Many companies maintain their own social media accounts. The company’s internal IT employees and the professional staff within the marketing and communications departments are often in charge of managing social media accounts.
Defining “Social Media”: When defining "social media," companies may want to include the following terms in their description: blogs, social networking platforms, forums, video sharing, and other communication apps.
Directing Security: There is an abundance of company information that is private, confidential, and should not be posted online. Your organization's social media policy should identify what information is and is not appropriate to share online.
Planning to Respond. A quick response to a negative post may be necessary to avoid further problems. A proactive and effective response plan will save valuable time when immediate action is required.
Adhering to Legal Compliance. This section of your organization's social media policy will address legal compliance as directed by the company.
Using Personal Social Media: A thorough explanation of the organization's expectations for employees' personal social media accounts will establish boundaries for all professional and private communications.
Responding to Outside Posts: When employees want to respond to posts about the organization from their personal social media accounts, employers should include information in the policy that provides employees with appropriate ways to reply.
Violating Social Media Policy: Provide your employees with a brief explanation of the consequences that will result in the event of a social media policy violation.
Your Social Media Policy: What Employers Can and Cannot Do
Employers can restrict an employee's social media use by:
Limiting the use of personal social media during work hours.
Limiting the use of personal social media on the employer's assets.
Limiting the use of the employer's name, logos, brand names, slogans, or trademarks on social media posts.
Ensuring that employees do not post private, confidential, or proprietary employer information.
Ensuring that employees do not publish information about the company, others in the company, or competitors that are inappropriate or discriminatory as defined by the EEOC.
Requiring that the employee identify themselves as an employee of the employer on any social media network and clearly state that the views expressed on the social media network are theirs alone and that the posted comments do not necessarily reflect the organization's views.
Requiring that employees do not engage in unlawful conduct at any time.
Employers cannot restrict an employee's social media use by:
Denying an employee's right to communicate about wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of their employment.
Denying an employee's right to disclose facts about sexual harassment in the workplace.
Denying an employee's right to communicate about their political beliefs and opinions.
Taking Action Against an Employee for Their Use of Social Media
Before taking action against a worker based on their use of social media, employers should consider the following:
Did the activity negatively affect the employer's business?
Did the activity violate the employer's social media policy?
Is the employer enforcing the policy uniformly?
Did the employer have grounds to take legal action?
How did the employer learn of the posting or conduct?
How will the implementation of action affect employee morale?
How will the action be perceived by the employer's customers or the community if made public?
Taking action based on an employee's off-duty conduct or social media activity can be challenging for employers because there are many factors to consider. Employers must weigh the legal risks involved, adopt a legally compliant social media policy, and consult legal counsel when handling these sensitive issues.
Talk to an Attorney First
Our culture's increasing need to connect instantaneously has allowed most of us to text, email, comment, and upload photos and videos via smartphones. Platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram have encouraged us to share our personal information, activities, and points of view in ways easily shared with and disseminated by others. So, what recourse does an employer have, for example, when one of their off-duty employees goes viral after making a derogatory remark about the company, and the video is posted on another party's social media account? While navigating situations like this is never easy, employers must first consider all the facts associated with the incident. Before taking action, it is always wise for employers to see the counsel of an experienced labor and employment attorney.
New social media sites are being created regularly and innovative platforms constantly change how people interact online. As technology keeps advancing and new social networking apps continue to be developed, laws regarding social media use, employee privacy, and confidentiality are also evolving. As a result, organizational social media policies must anticipate these further developments to protect an employer's business interests. Make sure that your company's social media policy is dynamic, and regularly assess and update your company's social media policy to reflect changes to your employees overall social media use. Employers who have not recently assessed their social media policies should meet with a skilled and experienced labor and employment attorney to review the language contained in the policy to ensure legal compliance and protect the organization.
About Attorney Natalie Lynch
Attorney Natalie Lynch is the managing member of the Lynch Law Firm, and she and her team of attorneys and legal professionals have many years of experience working with businesses to help minimize employment risk factors. Ms. Lynch is also a dispute resolution mediator and the only consulting and credentialed investigator in Central Texas who conducts third-party investigations into allegations of harassment, discrimination, hostile work environment, and other issues.
Call the Lynch Law Firm Now for a Free Consultation
If you are an employer working to review your social media policy or to resolve a labor and employment dispute or other legal matter, protect yourself, your employees, and your business by contacting the Lynch Law Firm. Our team can help you navigate the complexities of your legal dispute from inception to resolution. If you have questions about a labor or employment matter, contact the Lynch Law Firm now to schedule a free consultation. Call Natalie Lynch at 512 298 2346 or email her.