Employee social media posting remains a perplexing issue for many organizations. Some fear their employees may post ill-advised, embarrassing, or confidential information. Some encourage employees to mention their company and strive to transform employees into social media brand advocates.
An employee social media policy can set guidelines for employee behavior on line, help prevent public relations crises, and offer recourse against improper employee behavior.
Private organizations attempting to develop social media policies for employees face a balancing act. Government regulations state that employers cannot forbid workers from commenting on their work life in public. Barring anything libelous, freedom of speech protects employees who criticize their employers on social media. In one case, the National Labor Board ordered Chipotle to rehire a worker fired after complaining about the fast-food chain on Twitter.
Companies can, however, require employees to sign confidentiality contracts, and they have legal recourse if harmed by an employee’s posts.
Written Policies Recommended
Well-written social media policies are an essential element in developing employees into brand ambassadors. Employee advocacy — urging employees to post brand content on their own social channels — offers a cost-efficient and authentic way to spread company PR and marketing messages. Employees make especially superb brand advocates since they already know the company’s products and mission.
These are the essential pieces of advice contained in a written social media policy for employees.
Be responsible and think before posting. You are responsible for what you post. Keep in mind that if your conduct adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow employees, or the company’s business interests, it may result in disciplinary action including termination.
Follow the rules. Know the company’s policies and rules. Inappropriate postings, such as discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or other inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated.
Be respectful. Be courteous to fellow employees, clients, customers and business partners. In other words, avoid “flame outs.” Avoid using statements, photographs, video or audio that are malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating, that disparage employees or customers or that might constitute harassment or bullying.
Be truthful. Never post any information or rumors that you know to be false about the company, fellow employees, customers, business partners or competitors.
Keep secrets. Do not disclose company trade secrets or confidential information. Do not post internal reports, policies, procedures or other internal business-related confidential communications.
Understand copyright laws. Understand the basics of copyright law. Do not re-use articles, images and other content from published sources. You can summarize the key points in a post and provide a link to it.
Disclose your company relationship. Reveal yourself as a company employee or representative when commenting about company or industry news. Government regulations require disclosures of relationships.
Organizations may benefit by providing employees who are active on social media with a training program on company time. While written guidelines may stress the “don’ts” of social media, a training program can focus on what employees can actually do on social media to benefit the company and themselves.
Tell employees who to contact if they have questions or if they would like more training or resources.
If employees of PR agencies are posting for clients, urge them to double check that they are posting to the correct account, recommends Arment Dietrich CEO Gini Dietrich at SpinSucks. Also, forbid employees from commenting on litigation or about clients, without specific permission.
Government Agency Social Media Standards
Responding to growing number of questions about employee social media use from government agencies, the Office of Government Ethics created its standards of conduct for social media use. Companies may wish to examine the new guidelines when developing their own policies.
These are some key aspects of the rules.
Use of job titles. The standards forbid employees to use their government titles in personal social media accounts in any way that creates the appearance of government endorsement or approval. Employees can include their titles in biographical sections of their accounts and are typically not required to include disclaimers disavowing government endorsement, but are encouraged to do so if there’s likely to be any doubt or confusion.
Recommendations. Employees may use their job title when recommending others if the network includes the title automatically. However, employees must not “affirmatively choose to include a reference to the employee’s title, position, or employer in a recommendation” without explicit permission.
Fundraising. Employees may raise funds for nonprofits through their accounts. But they may not personally solicit funds from a subordinate and may not respond to fundraising inquiries posted by subordinates or certain other prohibited sources.
Bottom Line: An employee social media policy can help prevent employees from posting damaging comments and can thwart public relations crises. The best policies consider both the company’s interest and employees’ rights. If policies don’t meet labor regulations, they can be ruled invalid.
This post was first published on April 20, 2015, and updated on Dec. 9, 2020.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.