Increasingly, social media is blurring the line between an employee’s work and private life, and between what is social and what is work-related.
This poses both opportunities and risks to organisations. The upside is that your employees can use social media to amplify your brand, but the downside is the risk of damage to your organisation’s reputation, to your employees and breaches of confidential information.
It is therefore crucial that your organisation has an effective social media policy which makes it clear to employees what their responsibility are. This will minimise the risk that your employees inadvertently post content that could be damaging.
Defining social media
Social media consists of websites and applications that allow users to create and share content and to participate in social networking. Without limiting the types of platforms listed in your policy (which are always evolving), this currently includes:
- social networking sites, including Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+
- video and photo sharing websites, for example Snapchat, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest
- social bookmarking sites (Digg, Delicious)
- corporate networking tools, such as SharePoint or Enterprise Jungle
- media sites hosting articles with comments, for example newshub
- blogs and micro-blogging sites, for example Twitter, Yammer and Tumblr
- forums and discussion groups, such as speechbubble, Google groups or Whirlpool
- wikis, for example Wikipedia
- podcasting sites, for example SoundCloud
- online gaming platforms, for example World of Warcraft or Second Life
- geo-spatial tagging, such as Foursquare and Facebook check-in
Managing the risk
The most common social media activities that pose a risk to your organisation occur when your staff:
- express dissatisfaction with their job or employer
- criticise the organisation’s actions
- attack or are disrespectful towards their colleagues or bosses
- breach confidentiality of the organisation’s information
- share content of a sexual nature with colleagues or clients
- breach the privacy of their colleagues.
Negative comments about the organisation (or breaches of confidentiality) could form the basis for allegations of misconduct on the basis that the action is inconsistent with the employment relationship or has damaged the reputation of the employer in a public forum.
Comments about other colleagues could form the basis for a claim of bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment or even defamation. Many cases before the Fair Work Commission involve inappropriate use of social media.
The 12 key ingredients of a social media policy
The purpose of a social media policy is to define how your organisation and its employees should conduct themselves online. This document should safeguard your brand’s reputation, while also encouraging employees to responsibly share the company’s message.
To achieve this, include the following content:
- Provide clear rules and guidelines to all employees for the use of social media at work and at home, including posts made outside of working hours.
- Clearly explain to your employees how best to represent your organisation online in order to grow the brand. This may include approving social media content, ensuring a consistent voice and tone reflecting your brand.
- Ensure that employees understand the difference between making comments on social media platforms on behalf of the organisation and as private individuals. In this respect, clearly differentiate between employees who have been authorised to develop, broadcast and monitor content on behalf of the organisation (social media managers/administrators) and those who have not, and make it clear what the limits of both roles are.
- Where making comment as private individuals, it is useful to develop standard disclaimers that employees can use when posting as private individuals but associating themselves with the company. e.g. ‘The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer’.
- Whether making comment as private individuals or on behalf of the organisation, all employees should be held to a minimum standard of behaviour on social media, including:
- understanding and following the external guidelines for use of each platform (e.g. Facebook);
- maintaining standards of behaviour found elsewhere in the organisation’s policies (e.g. Code of Conduct), and not posting material that may constitute sexual harassment, discrimination or bullying, or that is obscene, racist, sexist, defamatory or otherwise unlawful;
- not damaging the reputation of the organisation or bringing it into disrepute;
- not mentioning controversial subjects in ways that are inconsistent with the organisation’s values;
- not commenting to journalists or politicians without authorisation; and
- not disclosing confidential matters relating to the organisation or its employees, including information that is financial, operational or legal in nature, as well as any information that pertains to clients and customers.
- Sometimes an employee will admit to making a post, but argue that their account setting was private (not public), or if their setting was public, that they were not aware of this. To reflect the real risk of such posts being shared or reposted more widely by ‘friends’, and therefore easily moving into the public domain, you could draft your policy to extend its reach to social media accounts with ‘private’ settings.
- Unless they are a social media administrator, employees’ online activities should not interfere with their work commitments or performance.
- In addition to standards of communication, require your employees to observe copyright and privacy considerations, and attribute correctly when posting text or images. You should get legal advice on these issues.
- Provide guidelines on how to avoid security risks, including how to create secure passwords, avoid phishing attacks, spam, scams, and other malicious threats and how to respond in the event of a security breach or attack.
- Include reference in your policy to related workplace employment policies (e.g. Code of Conduct, bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, privacy, IT, grievance policy), what the consequences of a breach by your employees are, including potential disciplinary action, and any relevant legislation.
- List who to contact in the organisation for advice on social media usage (e.g. social media administrators) and explain what an employee must do if they observe inappropriate material on social media relating to the organisation (or if they realise they have made an error of judgement).
- Provide clear processes by which the organisation can monitor and, where necessary, correct or remove inappropriate, misleading or inaccurate social media content.
Ensuring effective implementation
A powerful tool to ensure buy in of your policy is to craft it with employee consultation. It is also critical that your policy is not a ‘downer’ by discouraging social media usage. Remember, your employees are your most effective advocates!
Finally, don’t let your social media policy sit in the bottom draw. It should be front and centre at each phase of the employment relationship, included in the employment contract/offer, upon induction and reinforced with regular face to face refresher training, preferably with case studies or hypotheticals for group discussion. This will enable the content of the policy, and the responsibilities of employees, to be kept front of mind by all employees.
About Tom Henry
He understands the value of clear analytical thinking, concise and powerful communication skills, excellent client service and effective case management. Tom has led numerous challenging, highly technical workplace investigations in a variety of sectors and has seen first-hand both the power of social media and the damage it can do if used inappropriately.
If your organisation needs help developing effective employment policies, please get in touch!