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June 21, 2018
    Article highlights
  • What access will you grant employees?
  • Addressing both official use and personal use of social media.
  • Security measures and disclaimers.

By now, most organizations have adopted social media into their plans for marketing and communications.

Social media allows companies to engage with clients and consumers directly. It gives organizations a platform to build their brand and distribute announcements and information with the click of a button.

According to Pew Research Center, 74% of adults use social media.

However, 73% of companies don’t have an official social media policy.

Some companies only develop a company social media policy in response to a major PR disaster.

You don’t have to look far to find stories of social media scandals: an employee tweets something offensive from an official company account, a hashtag campaign backfires, an employee shares confidential company information online.

A well-crafted company social media policy can help your organization proactively prevent these types of scandals. And, if PR issues do arise, a social media policy will help you effectively address and defuse the problem before it does too much damage.

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A social media policy should encourage employees to use both official and personal social media responsibly.

Here are some of the key elements of a good corporate social media policy:

1. Employee Access

First of all, your corporate social media policy should specify what sites employees are allowed to use at work.

More and more companies are starting to realize that social media can be a useful tool for employees. Completely restricting access to all social media sites isn’t necessarily a wise choice anymore.

After all, a Pew survey found that 20% of people use social media to find information that helps them solve problems at work.

However, your organization may wish to restrict certain social media sites. Or you may choose only to allow employees in particular roles or departments to access social media.

Whatever you choose, company social media policy should clearly state who can use what social media sites and how they can gain access to those sites.

Be sure to include the reasons you are allowing those employees to use social media.

Man uses social media while at work.

What is the goal of your social media policy? Point back to your organization’s core values. Maybe social media allows your company to be more transparent or keeps your employees on the cutting edge.

Your goals for social media use will depend on your particular industry and company. But clearly establishing what you are hoping to accomplish will set the tone for social media use in your workplace.

2. Use of Official Accounts

One key component of your company’s social media policy is establishing who can speak for your company on social media.

Which staff members are authorized to create, maintain, and delete official company accounts? What are the procedures for accessing and posting to those accounts?

Along with clearly laying out who will be running accounts, make sure the policy includes guidelines and standards for posted content.

Who will develop and implement your organization’s social media strategy? Who is responsible for making sure all posted content is accurate? What are the procedures for correcting a post?

Specify when the employee(s) running official accounts will need to get approval when posting certain types of content.

For example, they may need to work with the IT or design department when posting certain pictures or links.

You may also wish to use this area of your company social media policy to specify restrictions for using official company accounts.

For example, will you allow employees to access company social media accounts from their personal devices?

3. Conduct, Oversight, and Enforcement

Your corporate social media policy should tie in with other company policies such as acceptable use and code of conduct. However, social media brings up some issues that may not be addressed in existing policies.

Your social media policy should address both official use and personal use of social media.

Personal social media use can be more complex. You must respect your employees’ First Amendment right to free speech.

For the most part, your employees can post what they want when they are not on company time or using company technology. However, you should encourage employees to be responsible, respectful, and professional on social media.

Here are a few areas of social media conduct you should address for both professional and personal use:

Prohibited behavior

First, make sure that your official social media use is in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations. This includes laws about copyright, fair use, financial disclosures, and defamation.

Your company social media policy should also prohibit posts including:

  • Plagiarized content.
  • Inappropriate jokes.
  • Inflammatory comments or obscenity.
  • Offensive images.
  • Images or content that they have not received the rights to.
  • Discriminatory remarks.
  • Content that infringes on people’s privacy rights.

Prohibited behavior for personal accounts may be more general. Encourage employees to use common sense and good judgment when posting public content.

For example, IBM’s corporate social media policy prohibits employees from posting content that shows or implies that the employee is engaging in illegal behavior.

Confidential information

Transparency and free speech don’t give employees free rein to share anything they want.

One important role of a social media policy is to protect your organization’s sensitive information.

Your company social media policy should prohibit employees from posting confidential company information, client info, and trade secrets. It should also restrict employees from publicly discussing or speculating about company performance and unannounced business plans or acquisitions.

This should apply both to official and personal social media.

Monitoring and enforcement

Your corporate social media policy should clearly lay out how you will monitor employee social media activity.

It should specify that violating the policy can result in disciplinary action, even up to termination in some cases.

Every organization will handle monitoring and enforcement differently. But however you decide to manage it, be sure your employees know that they are responsible for what they post on social media, even outside of the office.

4. Security

When creating your corporate social media policy, work with your organization’s IT team to determine what security requirements, if any, are appropriate.

Some organizations limit access to social media features such as instant messaging or file sharing while on the internal network. Others have password strength guidelines and expirations.

It’s especially important to put security measures in place to protect official accounts from hacks.

Workers using mobile devices in a meeting.

Security procedures can also prevent employees from accidentally posting personal things from company accounts.

Unauthorized posts – whether through an external hack or an internal mistake – can damage your company’s reputation and image.

See, for example, the time US Airways responded to a tweet with a graphic image. Or the time an American Red Cross employee accidentally tweeted from the official account about buying beer.

While these kinds of mistakes may not be detrimental, they are embarrassing. And they can often be avoided by implementing stricter security procedures for accessing company accounts.

Make sure employees know the steps to follow if they think the official account or their personal account has been compromised.

5. Disclaimers

Employees have a right to their own opinions about their work. However, your company social media policy should stress that employees are not allowed to claim to speak on behalf of the company unless authorized.

Some organizations require employees to include a disclaimer on their profile or posts related to company business.

Using a disclaimer can prevent members of the public or the media from confusing employee opinions with official company stances. Depending on your industry, you may want to consult with your legal team on the exact content and wording of disclaimers.

It’s also important to note that certain managers and executives may be seen as expressing company positions even if they have a disclaimer in their profile.

Your corporate social media policy should encourage executives to take special care when posting personal opinions on social media.

6. Engagement

Your corporate social media policy should provide guidelines for interacting with people via official accounts.

The policy should make it very clear how your social media managers should moderate posts and comments.

How should they respond to messages and complaints? When are they authorized to remove posts or comments? You may want to include a disclaimer on your social media profiles that your organization will be monitoring comments and may remove any deemed inappropriate or offensive.

Your organization’s social media policy should also address procedures for PR emergencies.

Social media can be a helpful avenue for correcting false information or responding to negative press.

Used well, official social media can help your company preserve its reputation in a crisis. But if you’re not careful, social media can end up making things worse.

Take a proactive approach to your social media policy. Who is in charge of social media strategy and management during a PR emergency?

You don’t have to go into too much detail about this – if your organization has crisis management procedures, you can simply refer employees to those.

In today’s world of constant connection, it’s important for your organization to have policies guiding social media. Try to keep your company social media policy simple and easy to understand.

And since social media is always changing, remember to regularly review and update your social media policy.

A strong corporate social media policy will help your organization engage with consumers and clients, promote your brand, and avoid PR disasters.

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