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7 Key Guidelines to Crafting a Social Media Policy

For many of us, social media is part of our daily routine. Today, about 70 percent of all Americans have at least one social media profile. In the workplace, social media has replaced the water cooler. People gather on Facebook and Twitter or Instagram to share information and engage with friends, family, co-workers and even complete strangers.

A simple online comment or tweet can go viral in a matter of seconds. These days, businesses simply can’t afford not to have a social media policy in place to protect the image and reputation of the company and provide some practical guidelines for employees.

Implementing a social media policy can be tricky. In recent years, employers have found themselves on the wrong side of the law when trying to enforce a social media policy because it was found to be overly restrictive by federal agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Though some employer restrictions may be lifted under the new administration in Washington, D.C., employers should be aware of recent rulings by the NLRB on social media use and stay up-to-date on the laws that protect employee activities on and offline.

The following are seven key guidelines to follow when crafting a social media policy:

  1. Ensure your policy maintains control over the company’s official social media accounts. Designate an employee, internal team or third-party vendor to oversee these accounts and make sure that an authorized party can access the accounts at any time. If an employee uses social media on behalf of the company, he or she should have a separate agreement that indicates that the accounts are not for personal use and that all content and contacts are the sole property of the company.
  2. Encourage employees to be respectful on social media. They should avoid threatening, discriminating or harassing statements. However, your policy should not include broadly-worded statements that prohibit or discourage any legally protected activity. The policy language should be specific and reference any appropriate company harassment and discrimination policies.
  3. Employees must not represent their opinions as those of the company. A simple employee disclaimer clause can indicate that opinions should always be attributed solely to the employee.
  4. Your policy should prohibit employees from disclosing confidential, proprietary or financial information regarding your company, such as trade secrets, client lists, business strategy, as well as sales and marketing plans.
  5. Make sure your social media policy does not prohibit employees from discussing their wages or working conditions.
  6. Your social media policy also should not prohibit the use of the company’s logo. Instead, companies should restrict the use of the logo in specific terms to prevent improper use.
  7. Overall, it’s very important that your social media policy is as specific as possible when stating what an employee cannot do and provide examples when possible. A general boilerplate disclaimer stating that the policy is not intended to interfere with the employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act is not good enough if the policy language is otherwise too broad and vague.

Ideally, your employees will be encouraged and inspired to be brand ambassadors and positively promote your business on social media sites. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to police the internet, and in most cases, against the law to control the online conduct of an employee.

You can, however, establish clear and consistent standards and practices and educate employees on what to do before they share, post or tweet. Remember to exercise caution when drafting and enforcing social media policies, and when in doubt, consult with an employment law expert.

As published in the Business Journals