So You Want a Social Media Policy? Maybe Yes, Maybe No…

Your employees are out on the interwebs and using social media. Think quick – what should you do? I mean… what if they say something inappropriate? What if they bash the company? What if they “accidentally” share something confidential? Call your legal team now!  Because it’s time for another policy. Or is it?

Lately, it seems everyone is talking about social media policies. For good reason too. Friend of FOT, Ground_rules_largeSharlyn Lauby of the blog the HR Bartender, has written over on Mashable some good pieces on whether to consider developing a social media policy and ten must haves for your social media policy… good stuff. But in thinking this issue through a bit more for my company and also clients of my company, I think we have to take things a step further when talking about developing or revamping your social media policy. Here’s some food for thought.

–Emphasize your organization’s values. Many of the concerns people have about their employees using social media, whether for personal or professional use, can be tied back to basic, fundamental values. You want them to be respectful, act with integrity, be honest – and these are likely addressed in your organization’s values which apply to the online and offline worlds both. Emphasize values if you are establishing a separate social media policy.

–Remind staff to follow existing rules and policies. Tied back to the first bullet point, there are likely other policies or processes in place that govern how you want or expect employees to act when engaging in social media – remind staff of them. A starter pack on policies to fold into your social media policy could include an anti-harassment policy, confidentiality policy, professional standards and conduct policy… you get the drift. All those policies still come into play and should be applied.

–Highlight the importance of authenticity and transparency. Do you remember hearing about the CEO of Whole Foods a few years back attacking a rival company online under an anonymous name? Oops. That was not a pretty situation. Hopefully your employees have a strong sense of loyalty when it comes to your organization and maybe they have a harmless “competitive spirit” when it comes to others in your industry. Could they be inclined to defend your organization? Might they want to engage in a little friendly verbal exchange with competitors? Make sure they know you expect them to be transparent with their affiliation.

–Disclaimers. Sometimes you may want to have your staff use disclaimers – make the expectations around disclaimers explicitly clear. If you want staff to go the extra step of using a disclaimer that says their opinions are their own and not of the company? Provide sample language. If your staff are generally pretty proud of where they work – let them make their affiliation clear – it’s great, easy, free employment branding for you. But if you are nervous about their opinions and how they might reflect on the company, give them standard disclaimer language so they can state their opinions are their own and not those of the company.

–Confidential information. Certainly there are things you don’t want them to talk about on the web. Make sure staff have a crystal clear understanding of what they can talk about and what they can’t talk about.You probably already have a confidentiality policy in place – emphasize content of that policy and recommend staff re-review it.

–Productivity. Of course, you could be concerned that employees may become unproductive if engaged in social media… that whole “time suck” issue. Understandable. But pre-social media, there were likely available distractions available to your staff which could have been a time suck. Hopefully you have something in place, in a general policy on standards of conduct or somewhere in that employee handbook of yours, that addresses generally the expectation that staff use good judgment and are productive on the job. Performance expectations shouldn’t change because of your employees engagement in social media activities. If they aren’t meeting deadlines, if the work product isn’t up to par, or if the employee becomes disengaged, these issues need to be addressed, as they would be whether it’s because of social media or any other kind of distraction.

–Use of company logos and such. This is a biggie… work with your marketing team on the issue but make sure your employees understand the concept of brand protection. If you don’t want your logos all over the place, or if your organization has very stringent standards for where, how and when the company’s logo or other trademarked materials can be used? Address the issue within your social media policy – but I’d say that you should probably have something else in place that outlines standards for using company logos.

There are other issues to consider with your policy, of course… but these are just a launching pad for you. Sense a theme with everything outlined above though? Many of the major concerns I seem to be hearing from employers about their employees being active in social media really tie back to bigger picture issues which you should probably already have addressed in other channels.  In some ways, it’s back to basics when it comes to social media. Make sure you’ve covered your bases on all other fronts and once you’ve done that? Maybe you do need a social media policy, maybe you don’t. Just don’t forget to incorporate all those other areas into what you develop, should you go that route.

FOT Background Check

Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don't be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she's still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life... she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat. Talk to Jessica via EmailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook... See Jessica's riffs and rants on Fistful of Talent here...


  1. Tim Tolan says:

    My experience with social media in my own workplace is employees DO NOT follow policy when it comes to the “time sucking” SM takes out of an average workday. It’s almost a bit of a game to see if they can get away with it. Productivity goes out the window and God forbid – if the boss is out of town… well I think you know the rest of the story. I have to find a way to make SM work – and I’m still trying to sort that out.

  2. Jessica – thanks for the shout out. I believe social media is here to stay and HR pros have to learn how to leverage the positives versus controlling the potential negatives.
    As Tim mentioned, one of the biggest questions surrounding social media is productivity. For me, it’s no different than the internet. You have employees who could easily spend all day surfing. Companies will have to use the same results oriented mentality with social networking tools.
    The ultimate would be for companies to realize that social media is a part of work and train people how to use it so they become more productive.

  3. Steve Boese says:

    If judging by what new collaborative technology products are emerging almost weekly, or by the energy that seems to be building about how to leverage these tools for recruiting, branding, knowledge management and community building, I think that learning to effectively manage their use in the workplace will soon be a requirement for many organizations. Just this week I looked at three new platforms designed around the concept of incorporating the internal activity streams of employees, customers, and contractors with external content from Twitter, LinkedIn, and external RSS feeds. I think eventually the idea of having to elucidate a separate policy for these tools may seem silly, as they will perhaps soon be so interconnected with the daily flow of ‘normal’ business communications, that the internal vs. external lines will be almost indistinguishable.

  4. Amit Desai says:

    Nice article and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I firmly believe that every organization big or small should have a social media policy. Recently I completed an analysis on usage of social media and its impact on productivity and have published my findings here
    Hope you guys find it useful and also do let me know your views on the same

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