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Guest WritersHR Best PracticesFeaturedMarch 6, 2012by Stanton LawAn Effective Social Media Policy

A couple of years ago, a manager stormed into my office demanding that I launch a full investigation into something that had been posted anonymously online.  The particular social media website about which he was complaining allowed employees to post reviews about their company, and while not mentioned by name, the manager suspected that the employee was talking directly about him.  While I could certainly understand why the words the employee posted stung, the manager wasn’t listed by name, and the comment was neither libelous nor purposefully false.  Indeed, the comment merely alluded to the managers on a certain team needing more training.  I recommend to the manager that, instead of going through the whole team trying to figure out who posted the comment, he use that time to focus on connecting and engaging more with the team and figure out how to become a better manager.  While this particular situation was resolved, it served as one example of how easily the floodgates of social media issues can be opened.  The situation also highlights the need for companies to create effective social media policies for their organizations.

In my experience, the three essential elements of an effective Social Media Policy (“SMP”) include:

Good Fit for the Culture.

SMPs are not one-size-fits-all.  It would be foolhardy to expect a large healthcare company’s SMP to effectively match the culture in a small private tech firm.  It is important to specifically develop a policy that will benefit the organization long term, not just check the box of getting an SMP in place.  No policy can address every possible circumstance, but it must, at a minimum be clear about what the employer expects and what is acceptable.  Employers should work with the employees, as well as seek the assistance of employment counsel, to craft a policy that serves all of the interests involved

Not to Broad in Scope.

A company’s SMP should not be too broad – banning employees from ever mentioning the company in any way, shape, or form is probably not the way to go.  Just ask the National Labor Relations Board.  Instead, effective SMPs focus more on clearly communicating the expectations and the right way to use social media in regards to the company.  For example, instead of trying to prohibit employees from posting about a new product (this is what non-disclosure and confidentiality policies are for), an effective SMP would frame the issue positively, using language such as “our expectation is that the marketing team will answer all questions regarding new product launches.”  However, once the product launches to the public, it may be fine for employees to speak openly about its new features, and, in fact, may be an invaluable part of the marketing plan.

Get an Employment Expert to Review. 

This last one may be a no brainer, but worth stressing.  Having the policy reviewed by an employment law attorney is critical, and even better if you get the attorney’s help in helping create the policy.   The laws protecting employee rights practically mandate that an employment law specialist be heavily involved.  Although your brother-in-law may be an excellent entertainment attorney, he probably shouldn’t be the one reviewing this particular policy.

Creating policies that are consistent with a company’s culture is imperative to keeping employees actively engaged and keeping the workplace operating as smoothly as possible.  The purpose of the SMP shouldn’t be to smother employees with more rules, but to be as open as possible allowing employees to get back to what’s really important- running the business.