We are living in the age of Social Media. Anything that happens – or doesn’t happen – to an organisation will be found on a social media platform – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Reddit, Instagram, Friendster, etc.
Therein lie potential pitfalls for corporates. Because every employee these days has at least one smart device – smartphone, tablet, even just the good old laptop – the chances of corporate information finding its way to the internet via social media are exceedingly high.
Many corporates are finding that social media is an excellent way to increase their reach. Many companies use it to expand their business and for branding, advertising, recruiting staff, and so on. With social media access being essentially always-on, this means corporates can make customers, employees and business accessible literally around the clock.
These exciting opportunities carry incredible risks. Poorly-managed or non-existent social media policies can be detrimental to a corporate in different ways. For example, use of social media while at the workplace can affect productivity negatively. An employee engaging in inappropriate conduct on social media can negatively impact a business brand, while the disclosure of confidential information is very easy – even accidentally – when employees use social media without the guiding elements of a formalised policy within the company.
The case for a social media policy is, therefore, obvious. But there are pitfalls and gotchas that must be avoided when coming up with one, and it is important to develop a policy that is also legally defensible, and which doesn’t create more challenges than it seeks to solve. There can be issues related, for example, to disciplining employees who do not adhere to the social media policy, and any such action can quickly become a negative brand issue for the company should it go viral online.
Many people use social media as a “heat sink” – a place to take their grievances if they feel they lack a hearing where they are. Some will use it for personal grievances, relationship problems, political venting in the face of official indifference from government, workplace issues, and so on. To avoid becoming a victim, the corporate needs to ensure there is a channel through which they can express grievances. This prevents them from going online in the first place.
Regardless of that, however, it is clear that some employees will go online with one or other piece of information about their work. The social media policy should provide very clear guidelines as to what sort of information is acceptable to share online, thus ensuring that employees understand what they are permitted to say or do online, and what the consequences of ignoring this policy are.
For a corporate entity, it is especially important for employees to be aware of the consequences of posting obscene, hateful, defamatory or discriminatory content about other entities. Even where it is acceptable to share some information online, it must be stated very clearly what information needs prior approval before it can be posted on social media.
The social media policy should make it clear who is responsible for approving content before it is shared online. This ensures that there is no confusion around lack of approval before anything finds its way onto social media. In addition, the policy should designate a person who acts as the spokesperson on all questions to do with social media.
The policy must also point out what is considered illegal and unacceptable. The line here might be a little fine: there may be activities that, while not illegal, are in fact unacceptable given the company’s culture, values, or image. These expectations need to be set out openly at employee induction rather than when the damage has been done and then dealing with the negative impact on the business via a crisis response action.
Social media use can lead to significant loss of time and productivity. The social media policy must set out mechanisms that the company can enforce to get back lost time from employees. This can also act as a deterrent for those employees who want to spend too much time on social media. IT departments can also help by blocking access to social media websites at pre-set times through the company’s internet connection and monitoring employees can justifiably be used to enforce the social media policy.
Social Media are so much a part of our lives today that it is impossible for most people to function normally without them. The policy must, therefore, draw a very clear line between private and work lives. It must make a distinction such that both the employee and the employer, in their usage of social media, are protected from any liabilities arising from the use of Social Media by the other party.
Finally, the social media policy must be communicated to staff. This is best done in educative sessions, in which employee suggestions are taken into account. Social Media must be governed by a coherent and considerate policy.