Employees Gone Wild: 8 Reasons You Need A Social Media Policy TODAY

With more employees posting brand-damaging photos online, business owners need to learn how to protect their reputations.
August 15, 2013

Earlier this month, a Burger King employee in Japan posted a photo of himself lying on a pile of burger buns to Instagram. The photo went viral, but was considerably tame, compared to the infamous photos and video of Taco Bell and Domino’s Pizza employees engaging in disgusting acts with food.

These viral moments do more than turn our stomachs—they point to a troubling trend: employees abusing social media on the job to the detriment of the brand.

Workplace social media policies are gaining attention as the number of people commenting, sharing, liking and tweeting every aspect of their life continues to grow. Half of human resources professionals say that “IT abuses have increased over the past five years” among new college graduates, according to the 2013 Professionalism in the Workplace study conducted by York College’s Center for Professional Excellence. This includes excessive tweeting and using Facebook, which 65.2 percent of HR pros surveyed by the Center said was a common problem.

A growing concern for employers is how to manage their employees’ social media use and its potential impact  on their brand. The aforementioned cases bring to light the need for every company to have their own social media policy, says Aliah Wright, author of  A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites.“Any company, big or small, needs a social media policy to protect their reputations,” Wright told OPEN Forum in an email. “Even if their company has no social media presence, their employees may be creating one by virtue of their actions online.”

Social media gaffes made by your employees can have a very real impact on your business. For example, in the aftermath of the viral Domino’s Pizza video in 2009 (which to date has almost 690,000 views), company revenues reportedly slipped 1 to 2 percent that quarter. Business owners should learn from these stories, and protect their company as much as possible with their own social media policies. As Daniel Handman of employment law firm Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP told Bloomberg Law, “social media policies are now just as necessary for employers as discrimination, leave, and vacation policies.” But it’s not as easy as firing an employee for that “OMG I hate my boss” tweet. Many companies have been found to have unlawful social media policies based on recent National Labor Relations Board decisions, The New York Times reported.
As such, companies of all sizes are retooling their social media policies so as not to infringe on their employee’s rights, while making sure to protect themselves as well. Some companies have cracked the code—Walmart’s social media policy met the National Labor Relations Board’s standards, and there is an online database of social media policies for business owners to check out as well. When crafting your social media policy, make sure you address the following:

Elements Of A Good Social Media Policy

1. It creates a safe space for employees to share their concerns before going online.

“Encourage employees to bring grievances to their supervisor before taking to social,” Wright says. But be warned: Those employees tweeting how much they hate their job may be protected, depending on the context of the tweet.

The National Labor Relations Act gives all employees the right to engage in ‘protected concerted activity for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection,’” Wright says. “This means employees have the right to discuss their working conditions online—even on social media."

This has led to varying rulings by the NLRB that have confused employers, according to lawyer Daniel Handman. But one thing is certain: Your social media policy should not prohibit employees from “their right to discuss their working conditions online,” Wright says.

2. It outlines what's considered confidential information.

Wright encourages employers to define what kinds of information your employees can and cannot share online in their social media policies. “Absolutely spell out if employees need approval before posting certain types of information and define what that information is,” she says.

3. It's clear about the consequences of your employees’ actions online.

By virtue of its name, social media does not occur in a vacuum—a post that was originally meant for just a few hundred of your Facebook “friends” can wind up on the front page of viral news site Reddit.

“Explain that employees can be held responsible for the things they publish online—even if they are at home on their own time and they think only their closest friends will see what they’ve published,” Wright says. “Define for employees the consequences of what can happen if they, for example, place a video of themselves in their work uniforms engaging in behavior that can cast them and their employer in a negative light.”

4. It designates a company spokesperson responsible for answering questions about your company on social media.

Are you going to be the point person for customer questions via social media, or will you have a company spokesperson? Either way, make sure your employees know who they should refer questions about your company to online, so they don’t answer themselves.

5. It discusses the proper way to engage with others online.

“Tell employees they should be polite and agree to disagree with others, especially on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where things can go viral very quickly,” Wright advises. “Use real-life examples of the benefits and pitfalls of social media engagement.” 

6. It discusses what's considered illegal.

Employees shouldn’t engage in any illegal activity and should respect others’ copyright, trademarks and the like when they’re online. 

7. It reflects the company’s culture.

“Zappos’ policy is seven words long: Be Real and Use Your Best Judgment," Wright says. "Your company’s social media policy is a great place to reaffirm what you want your company culture to be, while conveying your stance on this serious topic. 

8. It educates employees.

It’s not enough to have a social media policy—employers should put in just as much time and effort in training their employees on the ins and outs of the policy. Make it a separate document from the employee handbook, Wright advises, and “cover the consequences and ramifications for those workers who don’t follow the rules—up to and including termination.” 

“Nothing can stop human behavior,” Wright reminds us. “Just as employee handbooks don’t stop people from breaking the rules, and laws don’t stop people from committing crimes, social media policies won’t prevent these types of scandals from occurring. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t institute and train people on social media policy. Having a policy can go a long way in getting people to think before they click.”

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