Social media is a battlefield these days, and there’s no doubt about it. One wrong tweet can light the Internet on fire. So how do you handle your employees’ social media usage, and how do you communicate your expectations?
The first thing to consider when crafting an effective social media policy is that there really is no one right or wrong answer. Different companies have different cultures, different ramifications to consider, and different beliefs around social media. These aren’t necessarily good or bad! Social media policies aren’t one size fits all. But it’s important to evaluate what your company thinks about employee usage of social media so that you’re consistent moving forward.
Here are a few things you could consider when crafting a social media policy for your employees. These are just meant to get the ball rolling; the most important factors are your unique company culture and what your goals are when it comes to employees and social media.
You Could: Do Nothing
For starters, you could simply give employees free rein on social media. You could take a hands-off approach whereby you allow anything and everything and consider it employees’ private life that you don’t need to interfere in.
However, there are downsides to this approach. For starters, employees may represent your brand whether they know it or not, so what they post can become a reflection of your company. You also don’t know what you don’t know; a situation could arise in which employees post things that are inappropriate, and you never put any guardrails or boundaries in place, but you can’t retroactively apply new rules. It can quickly become an unfortunate situation in which employees feel like they’re being treated unfairly, but your company is being hurt by their actions.
You Could: Gather Input
There are a lot of people within your company who have important things to say when it comes to drafting a social media policy. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be solely the job of HR! By asking leadership, the legal team, the marketing department, and employees at all levels, you’ll have a better chance of crafting a policy that keeps everyone happy and is fair to all. Sending out a survey, asking employees in one-on-ones, or having a meeting about social media best practices can help you gather important information and things to consider.
You Could: Require Employees to Post Disclaimers
You’ve probably seen people on Twitter and Instagram with “opinions are mine, not my employer’s” in their bio. This is a simple way to help their followers understand that when they post on social media, they’re posting on behalf of themselves, not their company. It still allows them to have a lot of freedom when posting because they’ve separated themselves from their company. Does that mean people won’t interpret their words as coming from your business? Not necessarily. But disclaimers ensure you are covered legally, and you also can’t control what every person on the Internet thinks.
You Could: Ask Employees to Refrain from Engaging in Spats
Social media isn’t exactly a peaceful place. Arguments break out from time to time, especially in our politically charged atmosphere. Although some people use Facebook or Instagram simply to connect with friends and share photos of their dog, many people use it to engage in discourse that can slip into mudslinging. You could ask employees to refrain from arguments about your company and to avoid inflammatory or cruel language. A downside of this? Your employees may start to feel as if you’re encroaching on their freedom. It’s also hard to decide what counts as “inflammatory”; it’s a very subjective term.
You Could: Encourage Employees to Refrain from Discussing Work
You may not want one of your company’s public figures tweeting about how annoying he or she finds his or her coworkers or about how much the person hates going into your office. That’s totally understandable and might be a fair thing to ask. Your employees may respond that their private social media profiles should be a place where they could rant about the small nuisances of work. If so, you could always ask that they make their profiles private so that the public at large can’t see them. It isn’t just about small complaints either—depending on your industry, there may be privacy issues at stake. Employees shouldn’t be sharing vulnerable company information on the Internet, and you may want to make that clear in your social media policy.
You Could: Test and Change
HR policies aren’t typically written in stone, and social media policies are no exception. You could always craft a policy and see how things go! Maybe you’ll find it’s too restrictive. Perhaps you’ll realize there aren’t enough boundaries in place, or you could decide that something wasn’t communicated correctly and needs more clarity. New social media platforms or changing algorithms can also affect things. These are all valid reasons to edit your policy. You could decide on a specific set of time, like 6 months or a year, and plan on reevaluating your policy at the end of that time period.
Clarity Is Key
No matter what you end up doing with your social media policy, remember that the most important factor is how clear you are with your employees. New employees should be made aware of the policy before signing onto a position, and current employees should have ample time to read and sign the policy. Like any other company policy, people need to be made aware of it so they can make the decision for themselves if your company is a good fit for them. Listening sessions, roundtables, and Q&As can all be helpful when it comes to getting the word out and calming any fears that arise. At the end of the day, you want to emphasize that it isn’t about limiting your employees’ freedoms—it’s about managing your brand and making sure your company thrives.
Claire Swinarski is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.