A social media policy outlines your company’s guidelines for your social media strategy. Is it ok for your employees to maintain a personal blog that conveys work related stories about customers, management, or other employees? How about telling the same stories on Facebook or Twitter? Can you post pictures from the office party on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Youtube? What is acceptable in a web connected social media world?

How Do You Know If You Need a Social Media Policy?

Facebook now has over 1 Billion user accounts. If you have employees then somebody at your company has a Facebook account. Add in Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, and over 300 other social sites and you can bet that information is leaking out about your company. Yes, you probably need a social media policy.

Social Media in Business

It is important to distinguish between business and personal use. Companies have a lot of leeway in controlling what employees say using social media while at work and representing the company. But once they go home, it is a lot less clear what is a controllable vs. protected activity.

Workers have obligations to their company when they are using their own social media accounts outside of their workplace. They must follow the company’s code of conduct, be mindful of intellectual property concerns, and maintain company privacy. According to recent court decisions, a lot more is considered protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act.

Is Social Media a Concerted Activity?

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) provides a lot of leeway in allowing employees to communicate with each other in a “concerted activity?”, which can include complaints about workers, working conditions, or work life. Concerted Activities are those where employees act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions or fix job-related problems. Employers may not penalize employees for taking part in such protected group activity.

Twitter Social Media

Lifehacker released results of a poll it conducted. They simply asked visitors, “Do you use Twitter?” The results were:

  • Yes, regularly – am a big fan (26%)
  • Occasionally (20%)
  • Yes, but only for search (5%)
  • Never – don’t care for (47%)

Another 3% said “other”. Lifehacker didn’t ask about Twitter policies, though. Seeing (anecdotally) that social media policies appear to be on the increase,* I constructed my own unscientific poll on LinkedIn. I asked my “connections” (a small sample) if their companies’ policy is to:

  • Encourage its use? (50%)
  • Tolerate it? (18%)
  • Discourage it? (0%)
  • Forbid it? (27%), or
  • What’s Twitter? (4%)

What’s missing, obviously, are demographics — age, gender, respondent’s job, size of the company, whether they’re B2B or B2C, etc. — and methodology. In other words, the poll would never stand up to scrutiny. Nevertheless, there’s some value there. I know what my next step is — that’s asking you, the reader, if you think an acceptable use policy for Twitter — and other social media — is needed at your workplace.

Business Use of Twitter

A lot of companies jumped all at once on the “Twitter train” without stopping to consider, “Is there a point to all this? Or are we just reacting?” They jumped in without putting together a plan. They were thinking (I’m guessing) that they had to get “out there” and build Twitter following because their competitors surely were, or they must be very, very close. They didn’t want to be thought of as followers, or technological laggards.

They didn’t know what results to expect, yet they were quickly disenchanted when they didn’t achieve these unspecified results. (It’s all over the Internet what they wanted — a business model, aka, money, cash flow, ROI.)

So, what should they have done (or, what to do now that it appears they’ve overcommitted)?

Your Business Plan for Twitter

First, understand Twitter. Do some research on the topic. Find out all the costs (opportunity cost, maintenance cost, etc.). Assess the risks. In fact, do a whole SWOT analysis. “Social media ROI” comes in many forms. Companies often make the mistake of thinking ROI can take one form ONLY — short-term monetary gain.

Find out which entities have been most (un)successful at Twitter, and learn from them. Your goal is to determine if there’s a way to make Twitter work for your company, or if you should avoid it.

Second, assuming you’re going ahead with Twitter, lay out your objectives. Arbitrary though they might be, set a goal. A realistic goal…a stretch goal. You need something…a baseline, a hurdle…against which to gauge your success. Eventually, you gain experience and you adjust your goals.

Third, formulate your acceptable use policy (AUP) for Twitter around those goals. Policy can help — or hurt the success of your venture. There are plenty of Twitter policies online — borrow them, if you need to. Be careful not to duplicate them — their situations are not the same as yours.

Make sure your policy is clear. Establish roles and responsibilities — who should be using Twitter, and under what circumstances. Let your users know what is and isn’t permissible. Let them know what the penalties are for one-time, multiple, minor, and major policy violations.

Fourth, revisit your social media policy periodically, or when special circumstances warrant. A social media policy written in stone isn’t a good business policy.

And if you sense you jumped into the Twitter pool headfirst without checking the water’s depth? Well, you know better now, I hope. (If you decide to drop Twitter, you won’t be the first. Or the last.)

Social Media PolicyYour Social Media Policy

Some social media activities could be considered protected. This is why it is a good idea to develop a Social Media Policy. Your social media policy should reflect your confidential information release policy and procedure.

Your social media policy can include:

  • Prohibitions against individual employee complaints in a social media policy does not violate the Act as long as it does not chill protected speech. Individual complaining is not protected, but employees talking to each other is protected.
  • Prohibitions against the use of company logos and trademarks for commercial purposes. But they might be able to be used for non-commercial work-related discussions.
  • Prohibitions against negative and unauthorized interviews about the company. But employees can talk negatively to other employees if it could be part of a concerted activity.
  • Prohibitions against expressing opinions with other employees. Opinions can be factually in error, highly negative, or expressing desires to unionize. They are all protected if they are concerted activities.
  • Prohibitions against sexual harassment, illegal activities, workplace violence, discriminatory, abusive or malicious activities.
  • A savings clause that recognizes employee rights–Nothing in this policy should be construed or applied to prohibit employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
  • Truthfulness disclosure requirements. Employees should disclose company affiliations when commenting on social sites.

Example Social Media Policy Guidelines

There are a number of great blog posts regarding developing your social media policy. Checkout Ian McKendrick‘s post Ultimate List of Social Media Policies, Procedures, Governance and Guidance for a comprehensive list of sources for modeling your own Social Media Policy. For a short list look at these examples:

The best way to protect your company is by establishing a Social Media Policy for your employees, agencies, and subcontractors. Once created, communicate your Social Media Policy with training programs. Then be sure to monitor social media posts in order to correct misstatements quickly.

Download Free Sample Procedure Templates to see how easy it is to edit MS Word Templates to build your own HR policies and procedures that can help protect your business.