Most companies have moved beyond asking whether they need to use social media – with the obvious answer being ‘yes’. From stockbrokers to small retailers, Government and even banks, there’s little doubt that business has gone ‘social’.
Yet most companies – regardless of size – have not moved to the next critical phase, in which one def ines how employees should use social media platforms. All too often, we have seen the line being blurred between personal and professional use of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, which ends badly for both employee and employer. Not only can there be irreversible reputational damage, but companies can become embroiled in sticky legal squabbles.
In the US, for example, one of the most active legal areas of social media for business has been in the context of employeremployee relations.
In 2011, the US Chamber of Commerce reported that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had received 129 cases involving social media. The majority of claims concerned overly restrictive employer social media policies or employee discipline, and even termination based on the use of social media. While the US is notorious for being overly litigious, local companies should take heed. The obvious solution is to have a social media policy – but as Finweek has found – very few companies have one.
“Unfortunately, companies tend to only react after a crisis has hit,” explains Matthew Buckland, MD of digital agency Creative Spark Interactive. This reactive response to social media-related crises as opposed to taking a proactive, preventative approach, can largely be attributed to ignorance. “Many companies are unaware of the risks involved with being active in the social media space, and they are even less aware of the risks their own employees’ behaviour poses,” says Craig Rodney, MD of Cerebra, a local communications agency and online reputation management specialists.
“There are a number of risks that companies can face: from brand damage by association, to slander, discrimination, racism, copyright infringement and much more. Employees who haven’t been trained or made aware of the risks often put their employers at risk through ignorant and uneducated behaviour on a public platfor form.” So how does one go about creating an and implementing an effective social m media policy?
According to Rodney, a social media policy should outline the risks of social media and provide employees with rules and guidelines, best practices and accepted behavioural examples that empower them to behave accordingly. “There should also be general education about the laws of defamation and how employees conduct the themselves on public social networks,” add adds Buckland. “Remember, journalists are now reporting directly off social netwo works like Twitter and Facebook, so even though you may only have 10 followers or friends, if your profile is public, your pronouncement potentially could end up as a quote in an article in a mass national daily.”
“In addition,” says Buckland, “any social media policy also depends on the employee. Senior employees or employees with a public profile in an organisation should have a different set of rules to those who may not be as senior or have a public profile,” he explains. “In the latter case, the rules could probably be relaxed.” When it comes to setting policy, there are now many outside experts who can assist HR teams and managers, or one can even download or purchase social media policy templates as a starting point.
Ultimately, however, it comes down to the discretion of employees, and to some extent, their loyalty. “It’s probably no coincidence that ‘policy’ and ‘police’ have a common etymological basis,” says Andy Rice, a brand strategist. “But if a social media policy is only sustained by vigilant policing (= “control”) your brand is in trouble!”