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Technology Trends: Social Media Policies - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Social Media Policies

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Social Media Policies

If your organization doesn’t have a social media policy, you should strongly consider getting your leaders together and assembling one as soon as possible. The news in recent years has been full of employees having a good time on the job in some destructive manner and then sharing the photos or video via Instagram, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the hundreds of other venues featuring user-generated content.

On the other side of that coin are stories of companies reacting too quickly and without a clear understanding of social media’s power, disciplining and firing employees for content that falls within legal and generally accepted boundaries for appropriate use. Few things betray an organization as being behind the times quite as blatantly as knee-jerk reactions to technology it doesn’t understand.

As you construct or evaluate your social media policy, keep in mind some big ideas:

  • There are laws protecting certain kinds of communication by employees in a public arena, including gripes about working conditions when discussing them with other employees. The National Labor Relations Board in 2011 and 2012 ruled in several cases that companies’ social media policies were overly broad in restricting such communication. Be certain that your social media policy does not violate federal laws.
  • Many employees are unaware that some kinds of public communication are illegal, including information that might be construed as insider-trading information or factually inaccurate information that might be ruled as libelous. Protect your employees with clear guidelines that will keep them on the legal side of free speech.
  • Overly restrictive social media policy can be a downer. If you believe in your corporate culture, if you strive to maintain a positive workplace, and if you trust your employees to be ambassadors on behalf of the whole team, less restriction can only be of benefit to you. Online shoe retailer Zappos famously has a one-sentence social media policy: “Be real, and use your best judgment,” which supports #6 of the company’s oft-touted core values: “Build open and honest relationships with communication.” Zappos, known for its radical approach to doing business might be expected to be so hands-off in its social media guidelines, but Walmart also publicly posts its social media guidelines and has received 100% legal clearance from the NLRB for its clear and rather permissive policy.
  • There are rules and there are guidelines, and it’s a good idea to have both. Your employees deserve to know where the boundaries are, and they should welcome that knowledge; yet they should also be invested in guidelines for responsible use. Every technology comes with its dangers and benefits: helping your employees to understand what they are (and how to avoid the former while reaping the latter) is healthy for them, for you, and for your organization. Conduct frequent discussions on professionalism, ethics, positive interaction, and fun, and include these concepts in your overall approach to your social media policy.

Chris Boudreaux of Social Media Governance maintains a list of more than two hundred publicly readable social media policies from multinational corporations, branches of the military, offices of United States governors, churches, non-profit organizations, universities, manufacturers, and healthcare providers, so there is no reason to delay any longer establishing your organization’s philosophy and policy for these important, powerful, ubiquitous media. Take a look at what’s working with other organizations, find something that lines up with your corporate identity, engage your legal advisors, and in the spirit of today’s social media, join the conversation.


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