According to market data firm Statista, there are nearly 240 million social media users in the United States. The Pew Research Center notes that seven out of ten adults use Facebook, while 72% of Americans turn to social media outlets for news and information. In other words, social media is pervasive. It also means that the vast majority of the U.S. workforce uses social platforms in some fashion.
The expanded reach of social media places organizations at a higher risk for damage to the brand and its reputation, and the lines between personal opinions and those expressed on behalf of an organization can be unclear. Amid an unsettled business landscape, tensions from the ongoing battle against COVID, mounting political division, and more, people currently have a heightened sensitivity to what’s being shared on social media, as well. It presents a complicated set of issues that HR professionals must navigate. What’s the best way to develop a fair and effective policy that respects employees’ liberties while protecting your organization’s interests?
In this article, we will share some tips for improving your company’s existing social media policy or establishing a well-constructed policy if you don’t have one in place.
Start with the big picture.
Depending on the culture of a business and its industry, employers may tolerate a wider or narrower spectrum of opinions expressed publicly. As you begin to consider your company’s social media policy, give thought to:
- The industry: People have different expectations for employees in different industries. What makes sense for a local retailer may not work for a newspaper, for instance.
- The culture: Some businesses encourage individuality and self-expression while others prefer the opposite. For example, more conservative companies may opt for a stricter social media policy while a tech startup may favor flexibility. What is your organization’s company culture like and does it lend itself to more stringent or looser social media policies?
Get informed about what you can control.
Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employees are free to discuss working conditions and their own employment-related terms with those both inside and outside their organization. In these cases, an employer is not permitted to terminate the employee for engaging in the protected activity. Examples of protected content include discussions about:
- The employee’s wages and benefits
- Complaints or criticisms about management
- Labor disputes
- Working conditions
- Safety concerns
Limit personal use.
Personal blogging, Facebooking, and other social media activities should be kept to a minimum and should not interfere with work commitments during business hours. Employees should also avoid promoting their personal projects or causes through company media portals.
Outline prohibited behavior.
Clear guidance should also be established about the types of content that will not be tolerated, such as:
- Inappropriate jokes
- Offensive images
- Discriminatory remarks
- Content that infringes on the privacy of others
Consider your existing rules about corporate conduct.
A social media policy may exist in the context of established rules concerning confidentiality, codes of conduct, or privacy. What applies to corporate conduct in general applies to communications on social media. For example, employers typically prohibit workers from sharing confidential information or trade secrets. This should be true regardless of the communication channel. Ensure that your company’s social media use complies with all relevant laws, such as copyright, fair use, financial disclosures, and defamation.
Review and update your policy frequently.
Social media technology evolves rapidly and that means that employers must revisit their social media policies regularly. Convene a review board that includes key stakeholders, such as leadership, HR, IT, Marketing/Communications, and your legal counsel. Revisit your policy with a critical eye at least once per year) and make changes as needed.
Communication is imperative.
When employees are aware of what is expected with their social media use, they’re less likely to engage in inappropriate activity. Social media policies should be clearly communicated to employees during the onboarding. These policies should also be readily accessible and easily referenced. Whether available online or in a physical employee handbook, everyone in your workforce should have access to the current social media policy at all times.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to social media policies. Your policy should be tailored to the unique culture, needs, and circumstances of your workplace while clearly outlining your firm’s expectations.
If you have questions about the development and implementation of an effective social media policy for your organization, the HR Team is here to help. Please contact our knowledgeable professionals to learn more.
About The HR Team: Founded in 1996, The HR Team is a Maryland-based human resources outsourcing firm committed to developing strategic, customized solutions that respond to the unique needs and cultures of organizations of all types and sizes. Available as a one-source alternative to an in-house HR department or on an à la carte project basis, the company’s flexible service models address the full spectrum of HR needs that many organizations struggle to address. The HR Team helps clients achieve their highest level of success by providing value-driven human resources services that leave them time to focus on what they do best: directing business growth and profitability. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, the firm serves all of Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia. To learn more about The HR Team, call 410.381.9700 or visit https://www.thehrteam.com/.