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Creating Social Media Policies that Protect… not Police

Social Media Risk ManagementThe content for this article was sourced from NAVEX Global, a global compliance firm, who  wrote an excellent article on Using Social Media to Promote Ethical Best Practices and their Social Media Toolkit to managing social media risk management.

The world of social media is rapidly evolving. Having a well-founded social media policy is essential to preventing, detecting and responding to risks associated with employee social media use. It is important that your social media policy aligns with your corporate values, complies with existing laws, receives frequent review, and is effectively communicated to your employees through training.

Good Social Media Policy Protects You and Your Employees

A solid social media policy is the first step in harnessing social media use and reducing
risks associated with employee misuse. But be careful:  there are  things you should consider before you can establish an effective and legally defensible policy. Following are some considerations to create a social media policy that not only protects your company and its assets but  also protects your employees as well.

1: Align Policy Objectives with Your Culture

There really is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to social media policy. The policy must reflect your culture, your risks, and your organization. Start by thinking comprehensively.

Consider issues that may be raised in different areas and departments within your
organization. Determine if groups have unique needs and may require tailored guidelines
due to specific business use requirements.

You then need to gather a wide team of contributors who will help shape the policy.
Consider including people from such areas as HR, Audit, Corporate Communications,
Finance, Legal, and Marketing.

2: Determine If Your Policy Will Be Permissive or Restrictive

Many employers are moving away from policies that restrict social media use or try
to ban it altogether. With most employees able to access their social media accounts
using personal devices, monitoring and ensuring compliance with this type of rule is
impossible. Organizations are therefore focusing on smart and ethical use, finding ways
to support employees who want to be brand ambassadors.

Before you get to work on your policy, determine whether your culture supports a permissive policy (where employees are allowed to use social media) or a very restrictive one. Talk with contacts in other organizations and find out what is and is not working for them.

3: Identify Your Organization’s Key Legal and Reputational Risks

Your social media policy must take into consideration your organization’s unique risk
areas and opportunities. Organizations like hospitals that deal with private, highly
sensitive information, for example, are likely to have different risks than an organization
that manufactures goods and advertises heavily on social media.

Some risks are likely to be common across a wide array of organizations; for example,
most organizations want to protect confidential and proprietary information, prevent
the loss of intellectual property, prevent misuse of others’ intellectual property, address
antitrust issues, protect brand image, and prohibit employees from engaging in
harassment and cyber bullying. But other risks may be unique to your sector or even
your organization. Here are some examples of risks that your organization may need to
address:

  • Customer privacy
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
  • Product liability
  • Antitrust
  • Federal Communications Commission rules regarding advertising
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

4: Define What You Want Your Policy to Accomplish

There are many important areas that you may want to address in your policy or
guidelines. Before you start drafting, create a list of items that you want to be sure
to address. A few of the things you may want to consider in your policy include the
following:

  • Define appropriate use of social media
  • Address expectations of privacy
  • Educate employees regarding proper etiquette
  • Protect the company’s confidential information and trade secrets
  • Encourage employees to be brand ambassadors
  • Support employees who are active social networkers

5: Get to Work and Craft Your Policy

One of the most important aspects of developing your policy is to work with a lawyer
who has experience in this area. Your lawyer must be familiar with the shifting legal
landscape and the current rules and limitations placed on employers. If not, your policy
will likely be ruled unlawful.

As you craft your policy, here are just a few tips:

  • Don’t trample on employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act; your policy language must be specific and aligned with current National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) positioning.
  • Look at the NLRB acting General Council’s third memo (dated May 30, 2012) and the policy that the NLRB thinks is okay. It’s a great place to start. Check out other policies and guidelines.
  • Don’t violate state laws that protect employees who engage in lawful off-duty conduct and that protect employee social media passwords.
  • Decide how specific you want to be about using such sites as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The more specific your policy is, the more likely it will quickly become outdated.
  • Make the language reader-friendly; don’t let it read like a legal treatise.
  • Keep the policy language tight and clear. Avoid blanket statements and broad generalizations.

Engage Employees and Drive Understanding

Kathleen Edmond, Best Buy's Chief Ethics OfficeA policy is helpful only if employees know about it and understand what is expected of them. You should train all employees, including managers. Ensure that employees attest to your social media policy regularly and keep a record that they have viewed and accepted its terms.

Whether you develop training in-house or use a third-party vendor, make sure your training is effective, engaging, and interesting—that’s what social media users expect.

  1. Host a moderated conversation group (think LinkedIn style). These groups allow compliance professionals to post content, questions, and stories – and then employees can respond.
  2. Invite employees to submit videos regarding ethics and compliance topics. For example ask employees (and even business partners) to submit nominations for people they work with whose behaviors/actions demonstrate high levels of integrity.  Share the submissions on a company intranet.
  3. Create compliance videos that employees can share with each other. Let them help spread the word.
  4. Start a company blog dedicated to ethics and compliance. Use this site to communicate values, explain what is meant by ethical performance, and share examples that are directly relevant to employees and managers. Best Buy has done a really great job with a public-facing blog run by their chief ethics officer, Kathleen Edmund. Consider allowing employees to submit stories and thoughts to the blog as well.
  5. Create a compliance department intranet where employees and managers can share ethics and compliance resources (articles, websites, blogs, books, etc.) and where managers can add/download materials for team meetings or to facilitate further discussion.
  6. Create a moderated wiki page; allow managers and employees to help create content.
  7. Use social media tools (such as Facebook and YouTube) to publically share your organization’s good deeds. Many large companies now communicate with the general public about their commitment to ethics and compliance.
  8. Host internal webinars that allow employees to answer poll questions anonymously, and ask questions of senior leaders about ethics and compliance.

Social media outreach also comes with considerations for organizations to make before embarking.  Some key factors to contemplate:

  1. Think broadly: engaging employees through social media is about more than a full-blown experience like Facebook or LinkedIn. It can be an internal network or information sharing system that is fairly simplistic. It’s about using technology to help start the dialog and encourage interaction.
  2. Make it interactive: social media, by definition, is not one-way communication. It’s participatory, collaborative and interactive.
  3. EMC Social Media VideoEducate employees about proper use: teach employees how to use your tools properly and how to be brand ambassadors for your organization. EMC does a great job of this in the video they produced on social media policy for their global employee base.
  4. Start with a focused approach: try one type of tool or method and really tend to it carefully.
  5. Enlist content creators: if you want the experience to be successful you need to create content often; enlist the help of people who are dedicated or responsible for regularly generating content or discussions.
  6. Post content on a very regular basis: you have to keep it interesting and refreshed if you want people to engage in a dialog.
  7. Make it relevant: make the content interesting and relevant, and allow employees to comment or submit questions/information.
  8. Tell good stories: find a way to share stories about managers and employees in your organization that are doing the right thing; you will set a good example and help build a more ethical culture.

Crafting a policy on social media use is no simple task. It is a collaborative effort that
requires a comprehensive approach. And once you get it right—it matches your culture,
complies with the law, and is effectively communicated to your employees. And most of all, remember that a good social media policy protects both the company AND the employee.

NAVEX Global is the trusted ethics and compliance expert for more than 8,000 clients in over 200 countries – the largest ethics and compliance community in the world. A merger of industry leaders ElT, EthicsPoint, Global Compliance Services and PolicyTech, NAVEX Global provides a comprehensive suite of solutions to manage governance, risk and compliance, providing critical cross-program insights through unmatched expertise and actionable data.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a strategic communications leader with nearly 20 years experience in both internal and external communications. She is a passionate advocate for developing communications that foster a stronger relationship between the organization and its employees. She is a global keynote speaker on employee engagement and HR communications. Elizabeth is a certified professional in Employer Brand through Universum Global's Employer Branding Academy.

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