Writing a social media policy for your organization isn’t as easy as it was 10 or 15 years ago. Professional networking sites like LinkedIn or sites with mega-reach like TikTok are compelling for companies of all sizes. In a world where employees can go viral on social media and bring your organization hundreds of customers or tons of negative press, you want a policy that works. How do you balance your organization's needs while valuing the role of social media in everyone’s life?
Why Might Your Company Want a Social Media Policy?
There are many generational differences when it comes to social media. Younger employees will be hard-pressed to find a time in their lives when social media wasn’t present. However, older employees still remember life pre-social media, and many will have a different relationship with current platforms.
Since employees have vast experience with social media, it’s easy to see why social media policies are challenging to create. Creating a social media policy removes ambiguity and gives your team peace of mind, so it’s important to define your company’s social media rules.
Reviewing Your Current Social Media Policy
If you are like most companies, you probably have a pretty outdated social media policy. A policy written several years ago or copied from the internet won’t work. Therefore, you must ask yourself a few questions when reviewing your current policy:
Does our company find value in social media? Can we make more money and sales or bring in more candidates if our employees are active?
How much do we value employee autonomy and their ability to make good decisions?
How can we futureproof this policy as more social platforms inevitably enter the market?
Are there currently any complaints about our policy? Do employees generally enjoy or dislike our policy?
How does our policy compare to our competitors’?
Who Should Be Included In Your Social Media Policy?
You might also ask yourself who will be included in your company's social media policy. Even a tweet from the company’s CEO can harm the workplace. For example, Elon Musk, the co-founder and CEO of Tesla, has caused a lot of chaos with his tweets. His Twitter account has made stock prices for Tesla fluctuate and cost him and the company a combined $40 million in fines and penalties to the SEC.
If there is concern about who is included, you could create a tiered social media policy. With a tiered system, you might give a different level of trust as employees go from individual contributors to executives.
Overall, it’s vital to ensure that you hold everyone accountable for the rules that apply to them. For example, if an executive’s use of social media negatively impacts the company, they should be held responsible.
How to Establish Acceptable Use
Deciding what is and isn’t acceptable use of social media can be challenging. Employees occasionally need a break from work, and social media can provide that much-needed time away. In a Pew Research study from 2016, 34% of workers admitted that they used social media to take a mental break from work.
Here are some questions to consider when crafting your acceptable use guidelines:
Would the use of social media distract this role from functioning correctly?
What is appropriate to say on social media? Is it kind? Would it look poorly on the organization?
Are there times of the day when social media use isn’t monitored? For example, lunch breaks and other time-off throughout the day.
Are there specific uses of social media that are always appropriate? For example, talking about the brand on LinkedIn.
What are the consequences of failing to follow the policy? When are these consequences enforced?
Legal Considerations When Creating a Social Media Policy
It’s important to note that many employees have a first amendment right to free speech. This will protect your employees from many legal repercussions for what they post on social media. On the other hand, there are some legal defenses for your company. If an employee defames your organization or releases trade secrets after an NDA is signed.
Overall, your organization needs to create distance between you and employees online. Some companies require employees to put social media disclosures in a post or bio. These disclosures typically read, “My opinions are my own. Any opinions expressed do not reflect my employer's.” This simple phrase may protect you as employees continue to post and build their personal brands.
Communicating Your Policy With Employees
Once you determine what your social media policy is, it’s crucial to communicate the policy. Here are some helpful tips you can use to introduce changes and keep your team in the loop:
Go over the changes to the policy in a meeting or a pre-recorded video
Once you’ve made changes or introduced a new policy, employees need to be alerted.
When updating a policy, it’s important to pay special attention to what has changed or what you added. On the other hand, if the procedure is brand new, go over the entirety of the policy to ensure people understand.
If you have a tiered policy, you might want to schedule different meetings or record separate videos. Policy changes are hard to digest, so you want employees to pay attention to things that matter to them.
Add the policy to your handbook
Once you’ve reviewed the policy, it’s time to add it to your handbook for future reference. New employees should sign off on your handbook, including your social media policies. If you want to get specific, you can add the policy directly to your onboarding platform and have employees specifically sign off on the social media policy.
Practice your policy
Your policy needs to be implemented across the board. Everyone should follow the rules you’ve put in place. If you want this to take off, anyone in charge of creating the policy should follow the rules you’ve put in place.
Iterate based on the results
Your company’s social media policy differs from policies like the ones around PTO. Paid time off has been widely studied, and we typically have a better understanding of the time off our teams need to succeed. However, social media is relatively new, and any changes to your policy can drastically change how employees use social media at work.
Once your new policy is in place, it’s time to return to the drawing board. Does your policy have the intended consequences? Are team members more aligned on social media usage? Does day-to-day use look like you wanted it to? If not, tweak and iterate on your current policy. Connect with current team members to understand why things look different than you hoped they would.
Building a Future-Proof Workplace Social Media Policy
Unfortunately, we can’t paint social media use with a broad brush. Social media use can improve employee morale and your company’s brand. It can also become a distraction that stops your team from performing their best. Companies must consider what social media means to their organization before creating a policy. Overall, it’s important to iterate your social media policy until you create one that fits your needs as an organization.