What Is Social Media Policy?
A social media policy is a document that outlines how an organisation and its employees should conduct themselves online. It provides guidance and guidelines around safeguarding the brand reputation on social media and serves to educate employees on etiquette and professionalism.
The social media policy is often a multi-page document that usually resides in a company's intranet. It will detail do's and don'ts, regulatory or compliance obligations and will explain expectations in terms of employee conduct online.
Many organisations will provide the social media policy at point of employee on-boarding as part of the contractual process between employee and employee. It will also be covered during the induction process of new employees.
Download our free social media policy template that will help you easily create a policy for your own company:
Undoubtedly employees actively share content about their employer on their individual social profiles without any encouragement. This was accelerated in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit and lockdown measures were in place. A social media policy should help employees understand the dos and don'ts of using social platforms, ensuring your employees and your brand are protected.
Why Have A Social Media Policy?
In today’s digital age, everything is news. Consider the following facts in the context of a business, large or small, trying to capture brand exposure and control reputation:
- The number of smartphone owners worldwide is expected to reach 36% during 2018, having grown from just 10% in 2011 (Source: Statista.com)
- Back in 2015, Ofcom stated that the UK was now a ‘smartphone society’ with the devices having overtaken laptops as the most popular way of getting online [Source: Ofcom.org.uk]
- 50-70% of a buying decision is now conducted before a sales representative is involved [Source: CEB]
- 39% of employees admit to having posted content about their employer without any encouragement [Source: Weber Shandwick]
- 57% of workers now consider ‘social business’ to be important when choosing an employer [Source: MIT Sloan]
These statistics show why employers need to consider the impact of their employees’ social media use on their brand reputation: with so many people having easy and unfiltered access to a worldwide audience, it is increasingly impossible to monitor what is said about a brand and, of course, what’s common sense to one user isn’t common sense to another.
We live in transparent times where brand reputations can no longer be easily managed. Your employees are undoubtedly already social and that’s without considering the influx of digitally-native millennials joining workforces around the world. That's why it's time to rethink your policy.
Social Employee Risks
So, with all this social activity, what are the key risks of employees using social media in the workplace? Unfiltered social media content is open to misinterpretation (or may be generated by an employee who has already misinterpreted a corporate message).
Culture, Politics and Religion, those once-taboo topics and now the heavyweights of the social newsfeeds, can play havoc with brand reputation if an employee chooses to comment or share them.
How do your employees know what they can or can’t say or do without guidelines?
Most employee engagement takes the form of internal communications that tells people about the vision and values of the business. Now, employees can mix what they hear ‘officially’ with what they read or see online. This information, which may come across as more genuine - or ‘from the horse’s mouth’ - could unintentionally draw bad attention to the brand. At the very least it will create confusion around the corporate narrative. For example:
- Only 51% of employees clearly understand and support the purpose and mission of the organisation
- Fewer than 30% of employees report that they are being communicated with, listened to, and kept in the loop
- Fewer than 17% of employees are satisfied with the frequency of communication from senior management
- Only 45% of employees have a clear understanding of what they should and should not do on social channels when it comes to company-related topics
[Source: Weber Shandwick & KRC Research]
These numbers show a corporate world crying out for better employee engagement. Introduce governance in the form of social media guidelines or monitoring to avoid problems being caused between corporations and their customers or partners.
[Source: Weber Shandwick]
Such statistics will almost certainly be behind sudden rants on social media; disgruntled employees choosing Facebook or Twitter as an outlet for their work-related frustration.
It’s for this reason that, at Tribal Impact, we believe that companies need to take their social media guidelines a step further than governance or crisis management. There is an inherent opportunity in these scenarios: to move from employee engagement to employee advocacy and harness the power of the best network you’ll ever have.
Which brings us nicely to the benefits...
Social Employee Benefits
“Brand messages reached 561% further when shared by employees versus the same messages shared via official brand social channels” [Source: MSL Group]
It’s simple really.
The average workforce has 10x as many connections as a company has followers and people are three times more likely to trust company information from employees than from the CEO. [Source: LinkedIn]
There are many good reasons why you should encourage your employees to be active on social media within the workplace. In summary, employees are perceived as more credible content sharers and they have loyal networks which gives them greater reach and greater influence. Quite simply, they are considered the more authentic voice of the brand and yet, many companies are missing out on the benefits of such a powerful internal resource.
Social Media Policy Structure
Outline why you're encouraging employees to actively participate in social media. Reinforce that these guidelines are there to help protect them as employees and the brand as the employer.
If you're building a wider employee advocacy program, explain why the brand is helping employees to develop their professional brand online - how it assists them and how their participation can support the brand.
At this point you should introduce the levels of program participation and point them to where they can get training so they can take their first step into social networking.
Consider making your guidelines conversational in tone and straightforward in approach – no social media jargon that may confuse or cause ambiguity.
Often employees are scared to mention their employer for fear of doing something wrong, so avoid scaring your employees further. Keep the guidelines informal; perhaps even "tongue in cheek". Focus on actively encouraging employees to be transparent and enthused ambassadors of the brand.
Always make sure employees are aware of confidentiality when it comes to company and customer related information. You wouldn't share confidential content at a networking event and so you shouldn’t share confidential content by social media.
Haven't I Seen That Before?
Be sure employees understand image rights, copyright, GDPR legislation and other legal constraints that may restrict their social media usage.
Make sure employees understand that they must respect their audiences and they must not be dishonourable in terms of racial, ethnic, religious or sexual slurs that may offend. Their professional brand will be tied to their personal brand and such commentary isn't acceptable in the office, so it has no place on social networking. It's not nice.
Leave It To The Legal Eagles
Don't disclose financial or legal information around customers or clients. Be sure that employees understand the boundaries of what they should and shouldn't be sharing. Remind them of their contractual obligations to the business when they became an employee and just emphasise that social media is no different to what they're already doing.
Move It Offline
Explain to employees that they should never commit the company to resolution - take it offline. It's not right or reasonable to expect employees to commit the brand to follow up on something specific without doing due diligence or further investigation. Just remind the employees of customer service protocols for dealing with complaints.
Social Guidelines Structure
Whilst the policy serves to clearly reinforce what can and can't be shared on social media from a brand perspective, guidelines are there to help employees get the best out of their professional social networking experience.
This is a perfect opportunity to excite your employees into become brand advocates on social media. Provide etiquette tips and give them confidence to try and build their professional brand.
There are a number of topics to include in your social media guidelines. Here are just a few:
Passion Is Healthy. Anger Is Not.
Emotions can run at a high when you're on social media, especially if you feel something or someone has been misrepresented. Spirited discussions are good. All out fights are not. We've all been there - that email that that winds you up on Friday night so you respond by hitting the keyboard with all your anger...then you walk away, return and re-write it. It’s the same with social networking.
No Pseudo Identities
Social is about conversations and people like to know they are conversing with someone genuine and credible. Encourage your employees to be human, to be proud and declare who they work for. Identifying themselves and connecting to the employer brand as an employee is good in terms of transparency and credibility. At the end of the day people are your brand. Encourage them to be proud of that association.
It's All About Me
Encourage employees to talk in the first person on social media. Social networking is what it says...social. A channel for discussions, conversations and networking. People don't have conversations with logos - they have conversations with people.
Encourage employees to think about their audience and serve their audience. Building a community by adding value and encouraging their community members to engage is the right kind of usage for social media. No one wants to convert employees into marketing megaphones. Teach them to learn and share.
Tell employees to be the first person to respond to mistakes. Don't leave it and wait. Tell them that if they've made a mistake on social media make some headway towards fixing it and setting the record straight. Still not happy? Contact the social media team.
What's Said On Social Stays On Social
This might be a good time to remind employees that the Internet remembers: so always pause and think before posting. If you delete that tweet, the chances are someone has already retweeted it or shared it. You deleting it from your twitter profile will not delete the shares that have already taken place.
Use Common Sense
No one is perfect but if you use your best judgment and common sense when engaging on social media you won't go far wrong - remind employees that this is how they already operate day-to-day.
Respect The Offline Rule
Not everyone wants to have their photo shared all over social media. Give some thought to the conversations that you have offline with your colleagues or customers and give guidance around maintaining the privacy of those conversations. For example if you go to an event and you take a photo it is only polite to ask permission from the people in the photo if you can post it to social media.
Encourage your employees to follow your branded social channels. It is a great place for employees to start engaging in content that is "safe". Employees will know that content from their employer is going to be branded and ready for sharing. They can start engaging with easy content that will help them ease into social networking.
We're Here To Help
Provide a point of contact. Employees may come across conversations that they won't be able to participate in e.g. a journalist has contacted them. In such cases make it easy for your employees to contact someone internally so they can step out of the discussion.
Be sure that you tell your employees that any activity they participate in on social media may appear in the brand’s social monitoring feeds (assuming you have them!) and that it is likely that their participation may feature in the monitoring feed.
Many organisations will have a code of conduct already in place. When employees sign the contract to join the company, a code of conduct is often used to inform them as to how the company expects them to behave. Remind employees that the code of conduct is also relevant to online activity.
Remind employees to think about what they post before they post it. Help them realise that they not only need to take care of the potential risk to themselves but also the risk to the brand. Stop, pause and think before posting.
Remember The Day Job
It's easy to get swallowed up in social networking so just remind employees that it's there to assist their role.
Employees that activate their professional brand online will open up new opportunities e.g. speaking opportunities, new customers, learning from others. It's a great way to connect and build their own network...for them!
The first thing to do is remember that social media infiltrates every element of our daily life – and so should your policy. Make it easily available on and offline. If it’s a new approach, you could consider a launch event to make sure everyone knows about it.
Don’t stop there though; add it to your onboarding processes, stick a copy up in the café, do a desk drop. Just make sure that your hard work and careful consideration isn’t wasted and give people ample chance to see it, read it and understand it.
The more legislative elements of the policy might mean you want employees to sign something to confirm they’ve read and understood the policy. Don’t forget the ‘understood’ part of this. Consider some FAQs on the intranet or an internal online discussion forum to give examples of best practice.
You could run a quiz to test people’s knowledge of the policy. Taking a more lighthearted approach to what is essentially a serious and necessary governance matter is a good way to help ensure your policy is well embedded within your business.
Example screenshot from our Social Practitioner eLearning Course
Consider creating scenario-based examples to illustrate good and bad practice. These can be incorporated into your internal news channels, or added to your onboarding processes and staff handbook.
Social Media Policy Examples
Most large corporations have social media policies and guidelines. Some are longer than others. Some are more humorous than others. For more inspiration and guidance, check these out. Feel free to click on the headings:
A bit dated (from 2010) but a great social media policy example of how to get your guidelines to fit on one page. It cover's five ethical pillars:
- Honesty about who you are
- Clarity that your opinions are your own
- Respect and humility in all communication
- Good judgement in sharing only public information - including financial data
- Awareness that what you say is permanent
A great social media policy example straight talking with humour - EVERYONE will understand.
Some examples include:
Be yourself. Be the first to out that you are a Gap Inc. employee—and make it clear that you are not a company spokesperson.
If you #!%#@# up? Correct it immediately and be clear about what you’ve done to fix it. Contact the social media team if it’s a real doozy.
A great social media policy example broken down in 3 rules of engagement:
- Disclose your relationship with Intel
- Protect Intel
- Use common sense when posting
A formal and comprehensive, not too long and easy to read social media policy example. It highlights guidelines for three groups of people and details Coca-cola's values on online communities.
Monitoring Brand Risk
There are many social media monitoring tools out there but perhaps not as many social media listening tools.
Listening is about finding out who else is posting content or commenting on your brand, not just monitoring the performance and ripples created by your own content.
It’s early days for social listening but media monitoring agencies, such as mention.com, are starting to offer the service plus there are some other interesting platforms out there, which could be worth a look. Of these, brandwatch.com seems to have the most developed offering.
You could obviously take a more home-grown approach and try using Google Alerts but this is likely to be more time consuming as you will need to do your own analysis of the results.
Another option to consider is building a list of your socially active employees on Twitter. Showcase the talent behind your logo by retweeting and engaging with employees on Twitter. It's possible to take this one step further by using tools like Onalytica to profile the topics your employees are most engaged with and connecting employees (at a human level) to influencers within the industry that share the same interests.
Social Media FAQs
Due to the emerging nature of social media use, many aspects of what is and isn’t allowed are still open to interpretation. As with anything that comes close to an individuals privacy, caution on the part of the employer is the key to ensuring everyone is fairly treated.
Who owns an employee’s social media account?
This comes down to the purpose of the account in question.
If it’s a personal account, set up for their own use by an employee, they have ownership. If there is a corporate social media account, group or page, whether it has been set up for multiple users or one single ‘caretaker user’ then this is owned by the employer. In the latter scenario, there are likely to be constraints on usage.
For example, the account can only be used for work-related posts or opinions, or posts may be subject to an approval process before publishing.
Can employers monitor employees on social media?
Anything in the public domain can obviously be seen by an employer and therefore monitored. But, as with most social media related scenarios, the answers are not black and white.
If an employee is using social media during work
Can an employee be fired for using social media at work?
The answer to this question depends on what the employee was doing on social media and whether there can be proved to be a direct link with either a negative impact on their work or an outcome that is, in some way, detrimental to the business.
A good starting point is to have a policy that clearly articulates the boundaries of what is and isn’t allowed. This then gives everyone involved a clear idea of what constitutes appropriate use of social media, both in and outside of the workplace.
The ACAS website has some useful information related to social media disciplinary and grievance situations.
Is it illegal for an employee to criticise their employer on social media?
This one’s a bit like asking ‘how long is a piece of string’. Ultimately, it probably depends on what is being said, how, where, why and whether there are any particular circumstances that need considering (for example if there is an ongoing court case or legal situation).
This article, from Personnel Today, gives some insight into factors that come in to play but there’s no real one-size-fits-all when it comes to free speech.