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Social Media Policies
□ Understand your company’s need for a social media policy
□ Acknowledge that the definition of social media is a moving target—so define the term broadly
□ Describe the overall scope of the social media policy and how it relates to other company policies
□ Set guidelines for internal computer use generally; employees should know that:
□ Set guidelines for outbound communications; employees should:
□ Employees should ask questions and ultimately sign the policy
Social media (sometimes referred to as “social networking” or “Web 2.0”) is an integral part of people’s lives and has become a key marketing strategy for most businesses. People are participating in social media at staggering rates through the many social media outlets that now exist. Many companies have recognized the benefits that can be achieved through the use of social media in the workplace, including supporting the company brand, providing a forum for customer feedback, and building professional networks. The use of social media can help credential your business, connect with prospective clients and customers, and support professional development efforts. Furthermore, with the increasing number of daily interactions with social media, every company must be aware of how unfettered, uncontrolled use of social media by the company’s employees—both inside and outside the work environment—can expose the company to undue risks. Those risks can be addressed and reduced through the adoption of an appropriate company social media policy. This chapter provides an overview of company social media policies and why such policies are important to a company and includes guidelines for development and implementation.
While what precisely constitutes “social media” is constantly debated by the media, technology industry professionals, and consumers, it is clear that social media uses web-based technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogues and into the creation and exchange of “user-generated content.” The widespread use of social media in individuals’ lives means there is an inevitable overlap with those individuals’ places of employment, which subjects a company to legal risks. For example, an employee promoting the company’s products may trigger Federal Trade Commission (FTC) scrutiny, making proprietary information public can have trade secret implications or violate a nondisclosure agreement with a third party, and discriminatory or violent statements may implicate harassment or other serious charges. Even if an employee does not intend to make his or her communications public, the ease with which information is shared and forwarded via social media technology may result in public dissemination of information that was intended to remain private. The risks may also be far more direct: a dissatisfied employee may post intentionally derogatory comments about the company, coworkers, or company leadership, damaging the company’s reputation.
A social media policy outlines for employees the company guidelines and principles for communicating in the online world. The policy is not intended to prohibit employees’ participation in social media on a personal level, but rather to provide guidelines regarding such participation in order to protect the company’s interests and minimize potential risks. The policy should address the employees’ use of company computer resources and provide guidelines regarding the employees’ outbound communications. Hie policy should also be consistent with other company policies that limit employees’ use of company computer resources in a manner that may adversely affect the availability of such resources to other users. Websites that use a large amount of bandwidth such as YouTube or Netflix may be blocked entirely or their use otherwise restricted. Tire policy should state that an employee participating in social media should not disclose confidential or otherwise sensitive or proprietary company information, nor should the employee imply that statements made by the employee are in any way representative of the company. Furthermore, the policy should bar any employee use of the Internet for non-work-related matters in a manner that negatively affects the employee’s or any other employee’s productivity. Finally, while the policy is primarily directed at company employees, the company should also consider including similar guidelines and restrictions in the policies it requires of its contractors and other third-party service suppliers. Examples of these provisions and other important provisions of a social media policy are discussed in detail below.
Some companies may also choose to allow employees to use social media as a means of promoting the company and its products and services. In that instance, the policy should require any use of social media as a formal company communication to fully comply with the company’s applicable communications guidelines and require the employee to first obtain approval of the appropriate company representatives. Tire company should also consider having all participants in such formal communications register their user names with the company in order to facilitate monitoring of those communications.