Employees can continue to post on social media but if a line is crossed, appropriate action can be taken.
In today’s digital age, social media has become an integral part of everyone’s lives. It’s clear that social media can offer businesses numerous benefits, however, it can also pose significant risks. Sensitive information can easily be shared online by employees along with inappropriate content too.
Danielle Ayres, Employment Law Partner, explains how having a social media policy in place can not only protect your business’ reputation, but also its assets and intellectual property.
What is a social media policy?
In recent years, social media has become an increasingly popular way for employees to communicate. As a result, it’s become more important than ever for businesses to protect themselves against any unauthorised sharing of sensitive information.
To achieve this, organisations have started to implement social media policies which outline a set of rules and guidelines for staff to follow so that employees understand what their employer classes as appropriate use, and to try and prevent posts going out that could potentially expose a company to legal problems or public embarrassment. They also aim to ensure employees align any work-related posts with the organisation’s values, mission, and branding.
How to write a social media policy and what it should include
A well-crafted social media policy should empower employees and protect a company’s brand, so it’s important any policy provides clear guidance. Here are some essential components that any such policy should include:
The purpose of the policy
The first step to writing a perfect social media policy is to clearly explain the reason the business needs to implement one. This will ensure that all employees understand the basis for, and the importance of, the policy.
Who the policy applies to
You should then outline that the policy applies to everyone working for the business who uses social media, particularly any work-related account, to post company-related information.
Personal account guidelines
You should include how your employees’ behaviour online can affect your company. They reflect your brand, so there may be consequences for your business if they are acting inappropriately, even on their own personal channels. Within the policy you should include pointers on how they can avoid conflict and what they should avoid saying i.e. negative things about your brand, employees, customers and other companies.
Company association rules
It’s important to differentiate between personal and professional accounts to protect your company’s reputation. You can ask employees to include a disclaimer on their personal accounts which will remind those looking at it that your employee isn’t a spokesperson for your brand. This endeavours to separate your business from employee’s opinions and minimises any backlash in the event that employees post controversial content.
Security and privacy guidelines
To keep your staff out of trouble, your social media policy should outline the dangers of sharing online. Your guidelines should include details about how employees can protect your company’s commercially sensitive data. It can also outline security measures for devices such as secure password creation and how to identify and avoid risks.
Updating a social media policy
Updating your social media policy is an essential step to ensure that it stays current with ever changing social media trends and technologies. To make sure your policy is up-to-date and effective, here are some steps to follow:
Review and assess your current policy
First, review your current social media policy and identify any areas that need updating. Consider any risks that may have emerged since the last update, such as changes in privacy regulations or new social media platforms.
Seeking feedback and insights from employees on the current policy is considered best practice. By doing so, employees are able to make suggestions on how the social media policy can better reflect their role, responsibilities and any needs and concerns, which in turn can help to improve employee satisfaction. Taking such ideas into account can also go a long way in enhancing the overall effectiveness of the policy.
It’s essential to conduct research when updating your policy – you should check to see if there’s any new social media trends, regulations and best practices. Always make sure that you are using reputable sources to base your decisions on, so you know that the information being used is accurate and up-to-date.
Review and approve
When you’re happy with the new additions, get your legal team to review the updated policy to ensure it complies with relevant regulations and employment laws.
Communicate the changes
Once approved, you should communicate the changes to your employees to make sure they are aware of updates and changes. There’s also the option to provide your staff with training to help them adhere to the new policy – this could be one-to-one meetings, online courses or even workshops. Communicating the changes will help refresh their memory of what they can and cannot do, ultimately reducing the risks for your business.
Should businesses have a social media policy?
Social media offers huge opportunities to reach and influence thousands of people at the touch of a button, meaning businesses have the potential to connect with customers and promote their brand.
However, with this opportunity comes the responsibility to manage the risks associated with social media use. While some argue that a social media policy can be overly restrictive, others believe that it’s necessary to mitigate risks, protect the company’s reputation and manage employee behaviour online.
Commenting on the use of social media policies, Danielle Ayres, Employment Law Partner said: “There are certainly benefits in allowing staff to post about their day jobs, leveraging employees as genuine brand advocates. Businesses should however always ensure that this is handled in the right way.
“From an employment law perspective, proper boundaries must be put in place around social media usage while at work, specifically where there will be reference to or an obvious connection with the employer. This should be clearly addressed in a social media policy, with all staff being expected to adhere to the rules and guidance contained within it. That way, employees can continue to post but if a line is crossed, appropriate action can be taken.”
When social media goes wrong
The beginning of February saw news of British Airways banning their staff from creating social media posts while at work. After a pilot posted on Twitter about being banned from taking photos or videos while on duty, it left many followers asking why the social media policy actually changed.
Danielle Ayres said: “Many will see banning use of social media while staff are “professionally engaged” as a sensible approach from British Airways – myself included.
“It’s clear the business wants to keep everyone on their aircrafts safe by ensuring all employees are concentrating on their jobs and complying with company policies and rules around safety, customer data and security. The Airline’s policy reminder that staff should refrain from uploading any pictures with passengers visible or with staff ID cards visible is a reasonable and sensible request.
“More importantly, most passengers will be reassured that the staff are focussed on the task at hand and not distracted by their phones or social media.
“I applaud British Airways for being proactive in their response to this and consider a polite reminder of company social media policies to be good practice when it comes to ensuring all staff are representing themselves appropriately online whilst at work.”