HR Management & Compliance

Have You Read Your Social Media Policy Lately? Much Has Changed

When is the last time you updated your social media policy? Does it still reference older social media sites like Bebo, MySpace, Digg, or about.me? Since our last article on this topic several years ago, technology has undergone significant changes. You likely drafted many of your policies before the likes of Instagram and Snapchat even existed. In short, much has changed in the past few years, and it’s probably time you revisited your policies.

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Be Specific

Give employees clear definitions of what you consider to be social media. Some common examples are blogs, online journals, personal websites, social networking sites, photo-sharing apps, chatrooms, comment threads, and any other form of electronic communication. Make sure employees are aware that (1) they’re responsible for what they post online and (2) certain conduct that adversely affects their own or their coworkers’ job performance, relationships within your company’s community, or other legitimate business interests can result in discipline up to and including termination.

State specifically what employees should avoid. Common behavior includes discriminatory remarks, harassment, bullying, threats of violence, and other unlawful conduct. That being said, the list you include is not an all-inclusive summary of what employees can and cannot do. Provide enough detail so that they know to use commonsense judgment before posting anything online. In short, tell them to “think before you post.”

Your policies also should take into account the instances when social media use can give rise to unlawful retaliation. An employee’s use of social media to retaliate against a coworker for engaging in protected conduct should be clearly prohibited. Likewise, employees who in good faith report supposed violations of your policy should be protected from retaliation.

Diamonds (and Snapchat) Are Forever

Snapchat is one of the most popular and influential social media apps to pop up in the past decade. Many of you may know Snapchat as the app where you can put dog ears on your selfie and send it to your contacts, who will see it for four seconds. The app’s biggest draw is the ephemeral nature of its content. In reality, Snapchat is much more than a dog-selfie app.

Users can choose how long the viewer can see a snap (1-10 seconds or no time limit). After that, it disappears forever. Users also can post snaps to their “stories,” which friends can view an unlimited number of times for 24 hours. After that, the story “disappears” forever as well.

Snapchat is unique among social media in that you can access it only by smartphones. The app’s website only provides information—users can’t log in and send pictures from it. Thanks to Snapchat (and the competitive market), Instagram and Facebook users also can now post stories and send disappearing pictures. The belief that content will disappear permanently may lead some to post more scandalous content than they would otherwise share.

Your policy should be specific on how you expect employees to comport themselves on Snapchat and other photo-sharing apps. Be aware that the advent of new technology may make it much harder to catch policy violators. Conversely, employees should be cautioned that it’s always possible someone will take a screenshot of whatever they post online—social media is written in ink, not pencil.

Keeping Work and Personal Lives Separate

A fairly obvious point—which sadly needs to be included—is respecting the boundaries of certain aspects of work. We spend roughly 30% of our time on the job, oftentimes more, and your work life can become a very important part of who you are. That doesn’t mean, however, that employees have the leeway to disclose sensitive or proprietary work-related information to the world. Disclosing business relations, trade secrets, internal communications, and other sensitive information of that nature should be prohibited.

On the other hand, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for employees to disassociate their personal views from that of the company as an employee. Social media policies should clearly state that employees who blog need to include disclaimers (in their bio or another similarly conspicuous place) that their opinions are their own and don’t represent the company’s beliefs. Your policies also should clearly prohibit employees from using blogs or social media to disparage the company or their coworkers, although this needs to be worded carefully to avoid possible scrutiny from regulatory agencies like the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Social Media at Work

Many employers also may want to include a provision that prohibits social media use while on company time. Some also bar employees from using their work e-mail for personal blogs or social media signups that don’t relate to work. Employees who violate those kinds of policies while on duty can be subject to discipline, although it should be fair and consistently applied.

When employees behave badly on their own time, the lines can become somewhat blurred. It’s difficult to regulate common sense, so policies should encourage employees to ask questions of the appropriate person before posting something that may come back to haunt them. Regardless of the time of day, however, all policies should make clear that certain off-duty conduct (including discriminatory remarks, harassment, threats, and the disclosure of sensitive business information) can be grounds for termination.

When Social Media Is Work

Many companies have embraced social media as a means of interfacing with customers. Your policies should provide employees with directions on how to alert the staff member whose role includes serving as online spokesperson or social media manager. For example, if employees see dissatisfied customers falsely disparaging the company image, they can alert the online spokesperson trained to handle such social media encounters.

A lot of people see social media as a negative—”don’t post pictures of this,” “don’t write comments saying that.” While those are good principles to keep in mind, remember that social media can have benefits as well. Don’t avoid it. Instead, use it well. Presenting your company as friendly, engaged, and even funny can do wonders to enhance your public image.

Having Designated Social Media Contact Can Help

Finally, as noted above, every company should have a point of contact whom employees can consult about their social media questions. Whether the questions focus on their own conduct or that of their coworkers, having a point person who knows the rules and can act on the questions helps to ensure the policy won’t fall by the wayside.

Social media is constantly evolving, and employers should be wary of significant changes that may arise in the future. If you still have questions, consult legal counsel to ensure your policy is thorough and appropriate.

Scott A. Holt is a Partner with Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP in Wilmington, Delaware. Heis also an Editor for the Delaware Employment Law Letter and can be reached at sholt@ycst.com.