Guide to Writing a Social Media Policy

9 Jun Mel Blondell Guide, Policy

I’m sure that we have already arrived at a point where most organisations know that they should have a Social Media policy in place.  However writing a policy that works for your organisation can be a tricky business.  Whilst it might be tempting to take a risk mitigation approach and write a definitive list of ‘do nots’ for employees to adhere to, a Social Media policy that helps your employees to deliver value for the organisation through their social media activity is much more likely to be beneficial in terms of productivity, revenue generation and risk mitigation.

There are four important areas to consider when developing a policy that promotes valuable employee participation in social media and manages the associated risks.

Consider strategy, culture and values

Start by considering the organisational strategy and the business unit strategies that underpin it. Depending on your organisation, you should look at marketing, media and recruitment strategies at a minimum, but there may also be others that are relevant.  Make sure that your policy aligns with any business objectives that have been identified.  It will be counterproductive to write a policy that limits social media access, for example, if the marketing strategy includes an increase in online activity or the recruitment strategy lists employee referrals as a candidate generation source.

Equally important is alignment with culture and values.  You will need to consider how the behavioural standards in your policy align with current custom and practice.  If there is a Code of Conduct in place, this should also align with your social media policy.  A policy position that doesn’t align will feel inconsistent to employees and may cause scepticism or mistrust.  Consider how a policy that limits social media use during work time would feel to employees in organisation that usually has a culture of trust and respect.

Define the purpose of social media

It may be obvious but explaining the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ is often missed in Social Media policies.  Beginning your policy with the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ will help whoever is reading it to connect with the purpose right from the start.

Identify what is covered under the term ‘social media’ although be careful not to limit the scope to ensure that future technologies and platforms are captured.

The why is just as important – probably more so because without understanding the ‘why’ people might not engage with what you are asking them to do.  Explain how social media can bring value to the organisation and to them as individuals.

Provide clear direction

It is important to explain the possible impact of the content that people post on the reputation of the organisation, regardless of whether the posts directly reference the employer or not.  Just as important is the impact of the social media activity on the personal brand of individuals and some people may not be aware that past posts might still be available and have the potential to affect them in the future.  It’s not a good look if a potential employer does an online search and a myriad of unsavoury photos or posts pop up!

The behavioural standards for each organisation may vary but there are some basics that need to be covered.

  • Exercise good judgement and respect and refrain from engaging in posting inflammatory or derogatory remarks. It is sometimes easy to forget that there is a person (or people) reading your posts but be warned, successful bullying, harassment and defamation cases have been based on online content.
  • Respect copyright and ensure that the work of others is always attributed to them. Apart from a legal responsibility this is a matter of respect and integrity.
  • Protect privacy and confidential information. Ensure that employees are clear about their responsibility to protect private and confidential information.  This type of information might be about colleagues or managers, customers, suppliers, or other business sensitive information.

Whilst these responsibilities may also be articulated in other policy documents, it is important to explicitly define the application in regards to social media is clear.

Be clear about the risks and consequences

Bullying and harassment can occur online and the consequences are no different than if the behaviour occurred in a physical workplace.  A recent case heard by the Fair Work Commission (Mrs Rachael Roberts v VIEW Launceston Pty Ltd, AB2015/160) referenced ‘Facebook unfriending’ as one of the actions that supported a bullying claim in the case.  Caution and careful consideration needs to be applied to social media interaction between work colleagues or employees and their managers.

Similarly, employees need to know that their employer is unlikely to be pleased if confidential or sensitive business information is posted on line.

Make sure that your policy is clear that employees are responsible for ensuring that they conduct themselves in accordance with the standards required by the organisation and that serious consequences could apply if they do not.

Social media has the potential to add significant value to many organisations.  By implementing a policy that addresses each of these four areas, organisations can access the potential that social media can offer and still protect the organisation from associated risks.

Mel Blondell is Managing Director of Red Seed Productivity Strategists, and has over 20 years of experience in human resource management.