The popularity explosion of social media has been great for both business and personal networking, but how do you make sure that your employees’ use of these platforms doesn’t end up having a negative impact on your business?
Developing a written policy on the acceptable use of social media benefits employees and employers alike. It not only helps a company to protect itself from liability for the actions of its workers, empower its managers, and comply with the law, but it will give employees clear guidelines to follow, and help them to draw a line between their private and professional lives.
If you already have a policy on how email and the internet should be used, this can be used as the basis of the new social media guidelines – you simply need to expand its remit. A comprehensive social networking policy should cover what constitutes acceptable use of the internet and emails, smart phones, using social network sites for personal purposes, and any blogging or tweeting on behalf of the company. Since social media platforms vary so much, it can be worth splitting parts of your policy into sections, so that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogging are all covered in very specific terms. Your policy should also cover network security, data protection and monitoring, as well as setting out disciplinary procedures. The monitoring of your new policy should also be set out within the document, but make sure you consult with your employees first on how this will be undertaken.
You must be very clear throughout your policy when it comes to drawing a distinction between business and personal use of social media, and if you decide to allow limited private use, be explicit about what this means – for example, you might be happy to allow employees to access their personal social networks through their work computer during their lunch break, but not at any other time. Remind employees of privacy settings on social networking sites, so that they can keep their personal pages personal, and it’s also worth including cross references to your bullying and harassment policy.
When it comes to social media activity undertaken on behalf of the company, it’s a good idea to set out rules on what information employees may disclose, and suitable opinions for them to express, referencing any relevant legislation on copyright and public interest disclosure as necessary. It can be a good idea to decide that pro-active posts should be approved by a designated senior member of your marketing department before they are issued. You should also include guidelines for crisis management situations, so that any negative situations can be dealt with swiftly and before they get out of hand.
It’s important to maintain consistency throughout your company’s policies, so that your employees aren’t confused by mixed messages. Try to apply the same standards in the social media arena as you would in the office, and give examples of what sort of behaviour constitutes a breach of the policy, and how such transgressions would be disciplined.
While your Marketing and HR departments are likely to take key roles in developing your new social media policy, in fact all your staff should be involved – a consultation process is advised, so that staff feel engaged with the new guidelines, and this will also help ensure that the resulting policy is fair. There are also a number of legal considerations to be borne in mind, including the Human Rights Act 1998, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and the Data Protection Act 1988 – needless to say, it’s well worth having your document evaluated by a suitably qualified individual before issuing it company-wide.