Why Your Dated Social Media Policies Are A Culture and Legal Issue Waiting to Happen


Erika Heald



For years, a common fear for businesses has been that employees might use social media in ways that hurt the company. Everything from sharing confidential information, misrepresenting the views of the company, disparaging the company online, or using the sites for personal purposes during work hours all could lead to costly business consequences.

Examples of employees using social media poorly are abundant, but recent high-profile incidents like Google’s employee walkout have shown companies that social media today can also be used to organize otherwise loosely connected individuals and spread information—and fast.

The National Labor Relations Board made it clear several years ago that employers are not allowed to restrict employees’ ability to organize and discuss their employer online. That means posting comments on social media about the employer is a federally protected employee activity.

Employees across industries are increasingly using social media to organize protests or as a platform of empowerment to change unfair practices (such as the recent issues surrounding Instacart’s payment practices), tightening social media restrictions (or eliminating the ability to use social sites) could cause employee backlash.

It’s in a company’s best interest to expect employees to be on social and to adapt to the needs of their team. Social media guidelines are the best way to empower your team to have an active social presence without crossing boundaries that could lead to lawsuits or negatively impact your company brand and culture.

Understand the Benefits of Social Media

If you don’t have social media guidelines for your team, you should. Social media plays an integral role in enabling your employee brand ambassadors, and social media guidelines are the enabling link for those who may otherwise feel discouraged from sharing company news.

Your employees want to use social media to share news about the company, but 77 percent are hesitant to be brand champions on social. This is primarily due to a fear of saying the wrong thing or being unsure of what the company would want them to share.

Enabling your team to post with confidence is important because your audience is 16 times more likely to read a post from a friend than from a brand, and flexible guidelines could quickly scale your social success.

Beyond external reach, social media has myriad internal benefits, including that 82 percent of employees feel that social media has improved work relationships. Social media can also benefit your employer brand, helping you find and retain top talent that aligns with your mission and values.

Rather than fear your employees on social, you should enable them to navigate channels in ways that help both of you thrive.

Build Flexible Social Media Guidelines

Modern social media guidelines are meant to be guardrails, allowing creative flexibility and authenticity. Define your goals for your social channels and detail how your employees can help you meet those goals.

If you’re not sure where to begin with drafting a policy or want to review your existing policies, these companies exemplify a few different approaches:

Ford: The company reinforces the need for honesty and respect in all communication. This fulfills not only an ethical requirement, but also a potential legal requirement, such as in the U.S. with FTC regulations. The guide also directs the team with resources to which they can refer other users if they have questions about vehicle or repair concerns.
IBM: This legacy giant is admirable for clearly encouraging employees to engage in industry conversations, including hosting their own blogs. “Bring your own personality to the forefront” is part of the company’s guides, with the necessary caveat to not use offensive or harmful language. Team members are also reminded of the rights associated with the use of the IBM logo or trademarks (noting that IBM cannot appear in handles).
Dell: This brief policy is distilled into five, easy-to-digest bullets for employees and invites team members to connect directly with the Dell social media team for any questions. Issues of rogue accounts are addressed, noting that an account created for Dell may be considered Dell property, and that accounts cannot be created to try and ride on the success of corporate accounts.

With these guidelines as your inspiration, put together a cross-functional working group to discuss what the right guidelines are for your organization. Work with compliance, talent, and marketing stakeholders to draft guidelines that can minimize enterprise risk and compliance issues while still enabling brand promotion and social activities.

Social Media Can Amplify Your Healthy Workplace Culture, But Employees Still Need Guidelines

Without social media guidelines, employees don’t know what is expected of them when it comes to associating themselves with the company brand. But with guidelines in place, you create an environment where your employees can become brand champions. And that’s not to say it means you’re expecting employees to only share the good. But what it does mean is you are setting the expectation that, even when posting critical comments about the business, those comments are done in a respectful way.

With your social media guidelines, it’s up to you to set the expectation that your organization values healthy debate and empowers employees to speak up and help the organization stay true to its values. In your social media guideline training materials and conversations, be clear regarding what constitutes respectful online conduct, what type of content or communication could undermine the company brand, and ensure employees understand your company’s intellectual property policies and protections.

A healthy percentage of “speech” occurs online these days, which means that social media is an integral component of your company culture—whether intended or not. So it’s far better to go from reactive to proactive and openly endorse employees’ online social activity while providing some helpful guidelines for employees to follow. Continue to refine your social media policies as concerns arise, and keep creating resources that address the needs of your workforce.

If you find deeper workplace culture issues bubbling up, it could be time to bring in outside experts like Emtrain, who can help ensure all your activities and communications are aligned to create a healthy, authentic culture. They’ve also created a social media policy template that may be helpful for drafting your own guidelines.


social media

Erika Heald

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