Tips for a Social Media Policy

Social media has contributed to the blurring of boundaries between work lives and personal lives, partly because social media sites are open to both personal and work-related content, which can be posted from home computers as well as work computers.

Social media policies have been developed by employers to clarify acceptable and unacceptable communications and to require certain disclosures and disclaimers in order to help reduce liability and reputational exposures. User training is also crucial in conjunction with policies to help educate employees about social media and other policies.

Social media policies are usually presented within the context of the employee handbook and other policies governing professional and ethical conduct. Policies should require that the content posted by employees be consistent with the employee’s work and job description, and with other policies included in the employee handbook.

Policies should include clauses requiring employees to:

  • identify themselves when discussing their employer or employer-related matters;
  • be clear and write in first person; and
  • make the writing clear that the employee is speaking for himself or herself alone and not on behalf of the employer. In other words, disclaimers are generally required of employees to make it clear that their postings are representative of their own views alone and not necessarily the views of the employer.

Prohibited conduct should be addressed, including:

  • employees defaming, maligning or harrassing fellow employees or employers;
  • disclosing proprietary or confidential information, intellectual property, or trade secrets; and
  • posting discriminatory or inflammatory comments that reflect poorly on the employee and on the employer.

Training sessions should be conducted to help make employees aware of the risks of using social media and how to manage those risks. Employees should be aware of:

  • the relative permanence of content in cyberspace due to the difficulty or impossibility of removing it once it is posted and forwarded to other recipients via e-mail. Inappropriate, defamatory or offensive content, photos or videos can cause lasting damage to the reputation and image of individuals and organizations.
  • the blurring of the boundaries between personal and work lives in social media.
  • how employees’ public and private online presence and activities reflect upon themselves and their employer.
  • how privacy settings and lists can be used to manage information online and to keep personal information from becoming public information.

Steps Toward a Policy

Following are some steps to consider taking toward establishing a social media policy:

  1. Become fully informed about the social media options and their strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Decide which site(s) would work best for your firm. Focus on one tool at a time before you expand to a second or third tool.
  3. Decide which employees should have access to social networks on behalf of the firm (e.g., staff engaged in marketing communications and human resources generally have legitimate business use for social media).
  4. Develop a policy that complies with employment law and clarifies for all employees:
    a. what are acceptable and unacceptable uses of social media,
    b. what are acceptable and unacceptable representations and disclaimers,
    c. what information can and cannot be communicated, and
    d. the disciplinary consequences of policy violations.
  5. Educate staff about their personal and professional responsibilities as well as the firm’s policy, incorporating the policy into the employee handbook, and ensuring that employees have read and signed it.
  6. Update the policy on a regular basis in conjunction with human resources, legal, and Internet usage experts.

Firms should consult with employment counsel before implementing a social media policy.

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