We live in a digital age, and companies and employees increasingly communicate with each other −and with the world− through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and countless other social media outlets available to them.
A recent study shows that nearly 70 percent of Americans are currently on at least one social media network. With that vast increase in social media use, companies need to examine their policies to ensure they are effective in the digital world.
Here are five steps employers of all sizes should take to minimize problems that can arise when they are utilizing the vast power of social media:
1. Decide who is the face of your company online.
You wouldn’t let just any employee stand at a podium with your company’s logo on it and give a speech to a crowded room, so why would you act any differently in the social media world and let just any employee tweet to hundreds or thousands of Twitter followers?
Decide who is authorized to post on your company’s social media accounts, and limit usage to those individuals. That way, your social media stays on message and is managed by a select few who best understand your company’s vision, its values, and its policies.
2. Be careful not to infringe on your employees’ rights.
Most of your employees probably will not be posting on your company’s social media accounts, but that does not mean they will not mention your company on their own accounts. Be careful not to interfere with your employees’ legal rights when they do so.
Employees have the right under federal law to discuss their employment conditions, even if they do so in a manner unflattering to the company. Do not tell employees that they may not say anything negative about the company or that they are not allowed to discuss their grievances online.
To a large extent, they are allowed to. However, it is permissible to tell employees that if they discuss the company on their social media accounts, they should clarify that they are expressing their own views and not the views of the company.
3. Be specific in any guidelines you set.
If you decide to place any regulations on what employees may or may not say about the company on their personal social media accounts, be specific and provide examples so that all will understand that you are not trying to interfere with their rights to discuss their employment conditions.
For example, if your rule is simply that you must be respectful toward the company in social media posts, some might take this as a rule against any unflattering statements about the company, which is a violation of employees’ rights.
However, if your rule is that you must be respectful toward the company and you state that examples of disrespectful statements include discriminatory, libelous, and obscene content, you explain to employees exactly what sort of content is discouraged without being overly restrictive.
4. Decide whether social media use will be allowed in the workplace.
People use social media accounts to learn of news, to keep up with friends and family, to express their individuality, or simply to pass the time. You may view those uses as beneficial for your employees during their work days or you may view them as a waste of their paid time.
Decide whether you want to allow your employees to access their personal social media accounts from their work computers during work hours, communicate that decision to your employees, and apply the policy consistently.
Either decision regarding personal usage at work is legal. You need to determine the right balance between employee satisfaction and employee productivity. If you believe that your employees are happier when they are allowed to use their personal social media accounts at work and their productivity is not overly compromised, it might make sense to allow them to do so within reason.
However, if you feel your employees are too distracted because they are allowed to use their personal social media accounts in the workplace, perhaps it is better for you to restrict their access during work hours.
Remember, however, that even if you block certain websites from workplace computers or tell employees they should not use such accounts during work hours, many employees still will be able to access those accounts using smartphones.
5. Consult your lawyer to determine whether a social media policy is advisable.
Many companies have instituted social media policies, but a social media policy may not be necessary to your company. The policies you already have put in place may cover much of what you need in a social media policy, such as defining who has the right to speak on behalf of the company or what sort of language should not be used when speaking about the company or its employees.
Review your policies with your attorney and determine whether you want or need a social media policy. To the extent it is not necessary to add a new policy, you might save yourself the unwanted time and expense associated with drafting and enforcing a new policy.