(Special guest post by Dawn Mentzer)
Employees can be among your best brand advocates, as their positive messages about your company reach their friends and followers on social media.
But their online activity can be the proverbial thorn in your side when it (intentionally or not) begins to reflect negatively on your company’s public image.
Consider the following plausible scenarios that could reflect badly on a business’s reputation:
Sales consultant Larry’s extracurricular escapades on Instagram
Tech support specialist Emma’s spirited political rants on Twitter
Overenthusiastic customer service representative Bill’s snaps about a confidential product enhancement that’s under development to 102 of his closest friends
Accounts payable clerk Lisa’s digs directed at a co-worker on Facebook
What can you do if employees’ online conduct is putting your company’s character in jeopardy? Is bad behavior online grounds for firing employees?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
In this article on the Monster blog, the attorneys interviewed share that employers need to proceed with caution. The National Labor Relations Board protects employees’ rights regarding off-duty conduct, and the laws on businesses’ rights to discipline employees for inappropriate online activity on their personal time vary from one state to the next. And every case is unique.
It’s tricky territory. But a reasonable start for business owners is to take to heart this idiom: the best offense is a good defense.
Companies that have a clear social media policy in place for their employees may have a better chance of avoiding issues and a stronger leg to stand on when someone goes against their wishes.
Small Business Social Media Policy Food for Thought
As with any HR policy and document that has potential legal ramifications, small business owners could run into trouble if they try to create a social media policy completely on their own. An HR professional and attorney can provide specifics about what restrictions a policy can or cannot not include.
Here are some considerations for business owners to mull over as they think about creating their social media policies.
A Business May Need Two Social Media Policies
One for employees who use social media for personal purposes and another for employees who manage the company’s social media accounts.
For the employees using social media for their personal purposes, there are two flavors of social media activity to address:
Using social media on company time
Posting about the company, the people who work there, and things that are happening at the company — during employees’ personal time.
What Guidelines for Social Media Use Do Businesses Include in Their Policies?
From several social media policies online, including those shared in a Hootsuite published blog post and on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) website, some reminders made for employees are:
Online activity should not violate a company’s confidentiality policy.
Everything published online may never disappear; therefore employees are encouraged to act responsibly and appropriately.
Readers may view employees as spokespersons for the company.
Conduct that adversely affects job performance (of the employee or associates) or otherwise adversely affects those involved with the business may result in disciplinary action.
Some of the guidelines within the policies include language about:
Limitations on use of blogs, personal social media, social media monitoring tools, and e-commerce sites during business hours
Making it clear to readers that the views expressed are the employee’s thoughts and not necessarily those of the company
Thinking judiciously before forwarding emails that contain jokes, silly GIFs, urban legends and get-rich business opportunities
Being respectful to the company, fellow team members, customers and competitors
Responding to or contacting the media
Respecting financial disclosure laws
Refraining from disclosing your location by checking into apps when visiting prospective and current clients
Understanding and not divulging company confidential or legally sensitive information on social media
This is just a sampling of what a social media policy might cover. Depending on the type of business a company conducts, the guidelines may need to be less or more extensive. Business owners can help ensure their policies don’t violate employees’ rights or otherwise put their companies at risk by getting guidance and feedback from an HR professional and attorney.
Social Media and the Legal Landscape are Continually Evolving
With the certainty that new platforms will enter the digital playing field and existing systems will add new features and functionality comes the uncertainty of what hurdles lay ahead. Companies will continue to face the challenge of creating policies that minimize the risk of employees hurting their brand reputation but don’t violate employees’ rights or discourage them from serving as loyal brand ambassadors.
Dawn Mentzer is a contributing writer for Straight North, one of the leading Internet marketing agencies in Chicago that provides SEO, PPC and web design services. As a solopreneur and freelance writer, she specializes in marketing content — and collaborates with clients nationally and globally.