After a hard week at work, Nathan, a business development officer at a startup and a prolific Twitter user, tweeted, “Glad to end the year capturing the big logo, Mistaq & Co. Let’s make it bigger in the new year.”
But within hours of the tweet, Mistaq canceled its contract with Nathan’s firm. The reason? It said Nathan and his employer should have kept the deal under wraps until all formalities were completed.
Do you think Nathan’s firm would have made the deal if it had social media rules for employees? Probably yes! Social media rules help employees like Nathan understand what they’re allowed or not allowed to post on social media about their company. Rules also help employees align the content they post online with their organization’s brand values and ethos.
In this article, we look at why employee social media guidelines are important. We also discuss how to build effective social media rules, including a social media policy, for your employees.
There are many reasons to have well-defined social media rules for your employees. Let’s discuss the main ones in this section.
Social media guidelines aren’t the same in all organizations, and some companies may not strictly monitor what their employees post online—unless it’s confidential info. But it’s important to keep tabs on what your employees are posting on social media platforms. You should have certain guidelines for employees to follow when sharing information about their company online.
Well-defined rules will help employees, especially new hires, understand how your organization’s social media policies are different from those they’ve had in their previous organizations.
Social media rules will help your employees make the correct decision when they’re faced with situations that don’t have clear-cut answers. In Nathan’s case, posting the same tweet after the deal was formalized and publicly announced wouldn’t have caused an uproar. Posting about a client win or sharing pics of a late-night office party can lead to contract privacy issues or bad online publicity for your business.
Ask employees to follow the golden rule: When in doubt, don’t post. Seek your manager’s guidance if you aren’t sure you’re allowed to share a particular company news on any social media platform.
Your guidelines must explain the right way of using social media to promote your company’s content, job opportunities, or other news. For instance, you may want a specific hashtag (e.g., #[CompanyName]Careers) to be used when employees are posting about job openings, or you may want them to avoid posting photos of their workplace.
Lay down these guidelines in the employee handbook of your advocacy program so that your employees know what’s okay and what’s not okay to post online about their organization.
In a few cases, your business can face serious legal damage due to the flouting of social media rules by employees. For instance, consider an employee from your finance team posting this message on Facebook, “Guys! Several M&A deals coming up in the tech industry. My company is also in talks with a leading startup. Pick up its shares if you wanna make a windfall!”
Leakage of such confidential financial or investment-related information can lead to investigations by government agencies as well as strict punishment for both the employee and the company on charges such as insider trading, financial information disclosure, and unauthorized M&A.
Here are some examples of social media mistakes made by employees that also cost their companies.
In 2014, clothing retailer American Apparel reblogged an image on Tumblr to celebrate the Fourth of July. But instead of posting a picture of fireworks, the company shared an image of space shuttle Challenger exploding, which led to a huge backlash among the public. Following the uproar, American Apparel removed the post, issued an apology, and attributed the error to their social media manager’s inexperience.
Justine Sacco, the corporate communications director of media and internet company IAC, was on her way to South Africa for a personal trip when she tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!”
Though Sacco had only 170 followers at the time, the tweet went viral, and there was huge outrage against both Sacco and IAC. In the aftermath, IAC had to sack Sacco and put out a post distancing itself from her comments.
Your social media rules should clearly define what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable, especially around sensitive topics and confidential information. For the gray areas, provide generic guidelines: courteous messages, decent language, and respect for others.
|Follow your company’s official handles on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms.||Post confidential information, including client wins, publicly undisclosed financial information, and legal info.|
|Share stories about your company’s successes, job openings, and news items that are already available on public sources.||Engage in flame wars, personal attacks, name-calling, obscenities, slurring, or comments around gender, race, etc.|
|Be courteous, polite, and mindful of your online posts and comments.||Post obscene messages or images that can damage your as well as your organization’s respectability and integrity.|
|Use disclaimers when posting personal opinions. Add this to your bio: “All views are my personal opinion; retweets aren’t endorsements.”||Plagiarize content without giving due credit to the creators of the content.|
|Follow IP and copyright guidelines, and give due credit to the author or creator of the original content, wherever required.||Respond to competitor overtures such as requests for engagement or news about your company or its people.|
|When in doubt, check with your manager before hitting the “post” button.||Post photos or information about fellow employees without their permission.|
Document management technology and services company Xerox got creative and shared its social media guidelines with employees in the form of a video. Let’s have a watch.
Exercise caution: Think twice before posting anything. The urge to comment on something instantly can often lead to trouble. Read through what you’ve drafted a couple of times before pressing “Post.” Take time to think through, and ensure the post isn’t divulging any confidential data, such as intellectual property or trade secret news.
Follow guidelines when sharing images: Be mindful of the images or photos you upload. Have you taken the permission of your colleagues in the photo? Have you scanned the photo to ensure there’s no confidential info visible on it? Double-check images before uploading to ensure your camera hasn’t captured something that shouldn’t be visible to the public.
Remember, the internet never forgets: You may have deleted your social media post or even closed your account, but chances are your post has already been viewed, shared, or taken a screenshot of by other users. And they can put it out as proof if needed. So, caution is the word you should follow when using online channels.
Your social media policy should be a living document that outlines employee guidelines and rules on social media usage, both personal and professional. Here’s are seven steps to help put together your social media policy:
Define your objective of using social media: Explain why you want to have a social media presence. You can mention multiple objectives, such as engaging with clients, promoting your brand, and providing customer service.
List out the social media platforms on which you have official accounts: There are hundreds of social networking sites today. List out all the sites where you have an official account. Provide handle names and details so that employees can check authenticity before attributing any information to you.
Explain how you’d like employees to support your social media initiatives: Your employees are your biggest advocates. Outline your vision and the details of your employee advocacy program, including guidelines on the frequency of employee posts, hashtags to use, and type of language to be followed, among others.
List do’s and don’t for employees: Employee actions online can be seen as a reflection of your company’s opinion, even if the post is from a personal social media account. Clearly state social media do’s and don’ts and reiterate their importance to ensure employees’ posts are in line with your company values. Use examples to help your staff better understand the guidelines.
Appoint a contact person for employee queries or concerns: Provide the details of the contact person employees should reach out to when they have questions about social media usage. Also, clearly mention the name and details of individuals authorized to speak on behalf of your company on sensitive matters such as regulatory compliance and financial investments.
Review and update your policy regularly: Review your social media policy document regularly to ensure it reflects the latest company policies and is up-to-date with current social media trends.
Get your employees to affirm your social media policy: Circulate your social media policy document among employees and have them read, review, and sign the guidelines annually.
You have your social media rules and guidelines ready, but how do you know employees are following them? Invest in social media monitoring software to track your company’s social media mentions, hashtags, and other content.
This way your marketing or customer service team will be the first one to know when anybody mentions your business online. You’ll also be able to track negative sentiment around your brand name and monitor employee behavior on social media platforms.