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A social media policy is a critical tool to protect business.jpgA social media policy helps a business protect its brand.

Social media has changed the equation in so many aspects of our lives—from how we shop and order food, to how we meet that special someone. For business executives, social media presents an especially big headache (and I don’t just mean because of a lack of productivity).

Executives must now worry about tweets from disgruntled employees, Facebook Live videos of questionable company behavior, and an Instagram of proprietary intellectual property. What’s more, it’s pretty easy now for customers and partners to gauge employees’ personal opinions on just about any topic, like politics, and not all of that is pretty. (Have you checked your Facebook feed lately, or is it too exhausting?)

All of that social media activity is fraught with brand risk. And here’s the worst part: Companies that have attempted to protect themselves with social media policies for employees have found themselves violating federal labor laws or the U.S. Constitution…or both.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a social media policy for employees. On the contrary, as with all company policies, you should lay out, in very specific terms, what you expect from your team members. The broader you are – prohibiting “inappropriate” comments, for instance – the less likely you are to be able to enforce it and not infringe on your employees’ rights. But, you have to approach social-media behavior as guidelines, expectations and encouragement more than simple fiat.

A social media policy won’t prevent every misstep or curtail every rogue employee, but it will set out an overall framework that will keep everyone in an organization working from the same playbook.

Ready to get started? Read on and find out what elements should go into a social media plan.  

1. Disclosure is a Must

Companies should encourage employees to show passion for their work and evangelize the brand. But there should be no confusion about whether you are speaking for yourself or in an official capacity as a spokesperson. For most employees, posts related to place of work should explicitly state that your opinions are your own and do not represent the views of the company. Never misrepresent yourself or your role within the company.

 2. Err on the Side of Caution

Promoting public news is one thing; disclosing company secrets is another. Advise your employees on what they should and should not post. Confidential, nonpublic or proprietary information should always be kept tightly under wraps. That goes for internal emails or information contained on a company’s intranet, as well as matters pertaining to litigation. When you craft a policy, make sure you are specific about what the company considers proprietary. Saying that all work related to the company should be treated as confidential likely won’t hold up in court. If you have doubts, advise your employees to consult their manager before posting. However, recognize that some social media policies that require prior approval for posts have been found to violate federal law.

3. Show Respect

This is what many businesses grapple with: How to balance employees’ personal opinions (especially when it comes to hot-button issues) when posting in forums that may include clients who have differing opinions.  Employers should always respect their employees’ First Amendment rights (beyond respect, companies are legally required to do so.) But remember: free speech doesn’t guarantee a right to employment. Remind your employees that everything they post online ultimately reflects on them, and by extension, the company as a whole. Explain that they should always express their opinions in a courteous and intelligent manner. Usage of racist slurs, obscenity, name-calling or otherwise demeaning language is not OK and should never be tolerated. State and federal workplace laws govern how certain protected classes (race, gender and sexual orientation) can be addressed. In social media posts where employees are representing their company, those standards have to be maintained. However, that goes both ways. A company may not like an employee’s political views, but, in some states, political expression is protected from workplace discipline.

4. Practice Good Customer Service

If you’re a business that serves the public, chances are you’ll have to deal with negative reviews and trolls. Advise your employees on how best to respond to negative feedback. A good rule of thumb is to try to diffuse a heated situation, offer to help find solutions; and if you make a mistake, own up to it. Oh, and don’t feed the trolls. Better yet, ask employees to inform the company of reputational risk online, rather than address it themselves. This gets employees off the hook for responding and allows you to have a focused, corporate response.

For better or worse, social media has erased the boundaries between the personal and the professional. You can’t control everything that happens online, but you can give your employees the tools to help them stay positive and avoid common mistakes that can tarnish a brand.

Time to Get Social

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