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2016: It’s (Past) Time for a Social Media Policy

Say what you want about social media, but you can’t manage a business without addressing it in one way or another. Many, if not most, businesses have accepted social media as an important marketing tool. Others may still be in denial about its virtues. Whether you’ve embraced it as part of your business strategy or are still hoping it’s a passing fad, there is no doubt that you should adopt a social media policy.

social-mediaThere are numerous factors that can’t be ignored related to social media – productivity, privacy, legal issues, the reputation of your organization – just to name a few. HR Professionals should know that workplace culture is largely driven by conversations taking place on social networking sites, not at the water cooler. Encouraging employees to interact on networking sites can improve workplace culture and the image of the entire company. The plan should be to use social media to your advantage.

Regardless of the size of your organization, developing a social media policy is likely in order. If nothing else, a formal policy will serve as a reminder that social media activities can have both expectations and consequences and at the very least a policy will alert folks to use a little common sense when it comes to using social media.

So what should your social media policy include? Well, first and foremost is must be readable by your employees. Beyond that, you should consider including:

  • Who can speak as a representative of your organization. This is especially important for those wanting to respond to negative comments, media requests, etc.
  • The responsibilities of the employee. Specifically mention personal responsibility regarding what they post and the consequences of improper posts. While you don’t want to get into the argument over free speech, you can easily point out that posts that can be considered as harassment or bullying of other employees will not be tolerated.
  • Privacy. Be clear about information that cannot be disclosed for privacy or confidentiality reasons. Keep in mind that sharing information about compensation, working conditions and manager performance may be considered protected speech that cannot be restricted.
  • Productivity expectations. Don’t be fooled into thinking that restricting social media use would improve productivity. That plan would likely backfire. Trying to prohibit social media is not a reasonable way to address productivity issues, but your policy should state that social media should not interfere with meeting productivity or performance requirements.
  • Policy Enforcement. Explained how you plan to enforce the policy and the consequences for not following the policy.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects the rights of employees to act together to address conditions at work. According to The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), this protection extends to certain work-related conversations conducted on social media. A few years ago the NLRB issued a report on social media policies with the two main points being:

  1. Employer policies should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees.
  2. An employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.

You can visit the NLRB fact sheet on the subject by clicking here.

Social media is not going away anytime soon. If you haven’t already established a policy, include this as part of your plan for the coming year.

Happy New Year!

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