Social media usage is changing the way we work and interact. It is now the norm—for both business and personal use—and posts are about as plentiful as the air we breathe. Today, social media is playing a vital role in many inbound marketing strategies; so is it counterproductive to restrict employees’ ability to share content and spread the company message, or is it wise to rein in their online usage? There’s no single policy that’s for every company. And while setting some parameters is necessary, overly restricting social media use can be counterproductive. So how do you craft a policy that protects your business from potential backlash caused by a rogue employee while still allowing workers to act as brand ambassadors? We asked three business professionals to weigh in on the subject.
Partner, Jones Walker
#YesButBeCareful. Social media policies are useful in defining acceptable and unacceptable employee behavior. But lawmakers, government agencies and courts say some employers’ policies have gone too far and have violated employees’ rights. So, employers must know the rules before adopting a policy.
Louisiana recently became the 17th state to say that employers can’t require employees to disclose social media passwords. The National Labor Relations Board, which enforces labor law, has challenged policies it claims infringe upon employees’ rights to discuss their wages, working conditions and other conditions of employment. The board recently ruled that an employee’s Facebook “like” of a coworker’s post criticizing the employer for a payroll tax issue was shielded by labor law. And even a nonunion company’s policy can be challenged under labor law.
The board’s general counsel has reviewed a number of social media policy cases and has emphasized two main points: 1) Policies should not be so sweeping as to ban activity protected by labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees, and 2) employee posts are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to protected activity among a group of employees.
To navigate around protected employee rights, companies should limit the policy’s ban to specific posts that affect legitimate business operations, such as productivity, safety, confidentiality of trade secrets, threats of violence or unlawful harassment. It should avoid overly broad or vague prohibitions—”inappropriate discussions” could be interpreted to include protected activity, like discussing wages or supervisor mistreatment. Finally, policy authors should check out an NLRB-approved policy attached to the May 30, 2012, memo from the board’s general counsel, which was based on Walmart’s policy and is available at nlrb.gov. Twitter’s 1.5 billion users aren’t going away, so consider a policy that’s right for your company and will stand up to legal challenge.
Your employees use some form of social media. If they aren’t on Facebook, they’re on Twitter. If they don’t have an Instagram account, they comment on message boards. It doesn’t matter their age, they’re on it. And though you may have blocked usage through your IT department, your employees are still using it via their mobile devices.
Not long ago, many companies blocked social media usage by all employees during business hours. No one was “friends” with their boss. That has all changed. The fact is, conversations about your brand are happening—with or without you. Being a part of the conversation is key to gaining brand equity. Social media policies are a necessity to ensure proper usage as well as mitigate risk.
Giving brands a road map to ensure employees use social media in the best way possible is vital. Social media guidelines should empower employees to participate in conversations with their brand—all while keeping common sense in mind. Employees should refrain from belittling the brand on personal platforms, know what’s appropriate to post, and remember that someone is watching.
Guidelines should touch on a few key points: the proper way to list your place of work for all social platforms, clear expectations on when (if ever) confidential information can be disclosed and full disclosure from employees to their friends—something like, “The opinions expressed on this blog/website are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.”
Employees should consider what they are writing as something that could be said to a journalist or to people who are unfamiliar with the brand. If what they’re posting would not be said in these situations, it should not be said online. A company will grow its brand more if it embraces its employees’ social media usage instead of opposing it.
Partner, Kean Miller
Tweet, post, like, latergram, regram, status update, tbt. These terms are no longer reserved for the social media savvy. They are part of today’s vernacular, and employers and employment policies must evolve to recognize social media use by employees. The reality is that people post about any number of topics, including work. Moreover, employees often engage in social media activity during the workday, whether from a work computer or cell phone. Therefore, it is important to have policies and procedures in place to address social media use before an issue arises.
Social media policies have come under increased scrutiny by the National Labor Relations Board. As a result, employers should seek advice of counsel in drafting such policies to ensure they comply with federal, state and local laws.
A social media policy can do a variety of things. For example, it should clarify whether social media use during working time is prohibited or permitted or allowed only for authorized employees, provide guidelines for employees who post on behalf of the company, eliminate any expectation of privacy for “public” postings, and establish a uniformly applied policy for responding to employee issues. In addition, the policy should remind employees that their social media activities—even on the employee’s own time and/or while using personal accounts, systems, or devices—can lead to disciplinary action, including termination.
A social media policy should expressly state that the company handbook and policies apply to social media use in the same manner that such policies apply in the physical workplace. Finally, employers should require that employees sign a document acknowledging the social media policy and agreeing to be bound by its terms. At a minimum, employers should revise their existing policies to ensure that current policies cover employee social media activities.