Keeping Pace With Social Media: 5 Tips For Your Policy

Consider these two scenes from the world of social media:

An employee at the British firm HMV took over the company’s official Twitter account and live tweeted a blow-by-blow account of a massive layoff.

Commenting about this series of tweets in the final two tweets, the (former) employee posted, “So really, what have we to lose? It’s been a pleasure folks! Best wishes to you all! Especially since these accounts were set up by an intern (unpaid, technically illegal) two years ago.”

Before you pass any final judgment on that series of tweets, review this Facebook post from a high-level manager who handles a huge employee benefits program: “Just got out of a pension fund meeting—sheesh!!!”

Which do you think represents the most egregious behavior? Certainly the public account of the layoffs is embarrassing and has some effect on the company’s brand image. However, the number of people following the company’s Twitter feed could be quite small.

In the second case, many employees who were stakeholders in the pension fund saw the comment on Facebook and felt that it implied some financial trouble for the fund. As he recounts the incident in his article for the May 2014 issue of Benefits Magazine entitled “Social Media Tips,” Andrew E. Staab relates that the company continued to receive questions and field concerns prompted by the post for no less than a month.

Social media evolution

Undoubtedly we will continue to see the evolution of social media for many years to come. Of course, companies can’t wait until it’s fully mature before drafting policies. These two examples illustrate that improper or unwise use of social media can create a wide variety of ill effects. These can carry consequences from personnel problems to legal and financial liabilities.

In the two examples cited above, company social media accounts were used. However, as you must know, employee private social media accounts are often at the center of these controversies. Therefore, any social media policy must take both into account, however companies must be very careful when drafting policies that cover an employee’s personal social media postings — even when they discuss the employer.

Recent National Labor Relations Board decisions give employees some rights to discuss their employers in social media, even when the comments are critical. Policies that are too broadly written will not stand up to NLRB scrutiny. Philip L. Gordon and Lauren K. Woon from Littler Mendelson summarized the NLRB positions in “Six Recent NLRB Cases Provide Further Insight On Structuring Employers’ Social Media Policies.” They conclude:

“… employers cannot ban all negative comments about their organization or establish subjective standards that give employers complete discretion to decide which negative comments will result in discipline. Instead, employers must draft narrowly tailored policies that employees would not reasonably read to prohibit discussion about wages, hours, and others terms and conditions of employment, however negative.”

This brings us to our first tip for drafting or revising your social media policy:

1. Be specific. Any policy that is too broad or leaves room for interpretation will not pass muster. Further, any such policy will be virtually impossible for employees to follow.

The policy must include which type of information employees may not post. The court has specifically ruled that policies banning “gossip” or posts that “negatively affect” the employer are too vaguely worded.

However, the NLRB ruled in favor of Landry’s, Inc. in a challenge to the company’s social media policy. The Landry’s policy “urge[d] all employees not to post information regarding the Company, their jobs, or other employees which could lead to morale issues in the workplace or detrimentally affect the Company’s business.”

Further, the policy offered this guidance: “…always think(ing) before you post, being civil to others and their opinions, and not posting personal information about others unless you have received their permission.”

2. Don’t be too specific. While it’s necessary to define the communication you want to discourage very specifically, your definition of social media needs to be less specific. As we said earlier, social media is quickly evolving. While MySpace was huge just a handful of years ago, it is hardly used today. Who knows how long Facebook will be a dominant force in social media.

Staab says that “one way to loosely define social media is to state simply that it is a form of electronic mass communication.”

3. Privacy and confidentiality are central. In many ways, a social media policy is a privacy and confidentiality policy. Employees must be sensitive to any social media activity that could “result in accusations of privacy violations, harassment, discrimination, or intellectual property infringement,” wrote Matt Dunning in his March 31, 2014, article for Business Insurance, “Well-crafted Internal Policies Can Mitigate Social Media Risks.”

4. Survey your employees. Before writing or revising your social media policy, get a good idea how your employees are using social media. “As risk managers, it will be very helpful to see how people are using sites like Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram, and spend some time learning about how they work,” says Shannon Wilkinson, founder and president of New York-based Reputation Communications Ltd.

With this knowledge in hand, Dunning said, companies “can take a more informed approach to setting parameters that are both operationally and culturally appropriate for their workforces.”

5. Cover all employees. As we saw with the post that the benefits manager published on Facebook, all levels of employees can create problems for the company through social media. Be sure your policy doesn’t focus solely on what lower level employees might post about one another or the company on their personal social media accounts.

Finally, as with any policy — and perhaps especially with your social media policy — subject it to periodic reviews. Along with the evolution of social media, the law around this area is rapidly evolving and you need to monitor changes and be certain that your policy continues to reflect current best practices.

In the same way, ongoing training should be scheduled not only to cover policy changes, but to let employees know that adherence to the policy continues to be important to management.

Related Posts

Enter your keyword