Gini Dietrich

21 Must Haves in Your Social Media Policy

By: Gini Dietrich | August 14, 2014 | 

Social Media PolicyBy Gini Dietrich

A couple of weeks ago, smartie Kerry Gorgone wrote a blog post about whether you should friend your employees on the social networks.

I have a hard time with this one for two reasons: 1) I met every one of our employees through the social networks first, which means we were friends there before they started working here; and 2) Social media is part of what we do so there is a big blurry line between personal and professional in this case.

Right now, it’s probably okay (I say probably because they may tell you differently), but as we continue to grow, this may be something I need to keep in mind. It might not be okay to be friends with all of our employees on the social networks.

That’s why a social media policy is so important.

Right now, our policy pretty much is, “Don’t swear” and “Consider the optics.”

But, as we continue to add to our team, the policy will have to evolve.

The Legal Ramifications

Peter Fischer, an attorney at Stokes Roberts & Wagner, says it’s best to have a policy with a signature line on it where employees put their John Hancock.

In accordance with National Labor Relations Board laws, he recommends the following:

  1. Employers cannot restrict anyone from commenting on his or her work life.
  2. Employers can make sure employees sign confidentiality provisions.
  3. Employees can’t lie.

There aren’t clear cut laws (yet) on what can and can’t be said by employees—or how employers react—on the social networks.

That said, if a group of employees complains about a policy or procedure on their personal Facebook pages, the NLRB allows that. But, if a single employee posts something harmful to the company, the employer has more rights.

Inside my communications firm, if someone posts something that may leave the wrong impression, I’ll bring it up and ask them to consider how someone who might not work here would read that.

It doesn’t happen often, but I like them to think about the perception they’re leaving.

Then it’s up to them to either edit, delete, or just keep it in mind for next time.

The Social Media Policy

Part of the reason many organizations don’t have a social media policy is because they approach it from a legal standpoint and it becomes this long drawn-out thing.

It doesn’t have to be.

It should include:

  1. State where you work and, if you’re distributing content for a client, make that clear.
  2. Don’t lie.
  3. Be meaningful and respectful. Don’t spam or argue.
  4. Use common sense and common courtesy. If in doubt, don’t post.
  5. Stick to areas of expertise.
  6. Do offer insight and wisdom, but don’t provide any confidential information.
  7. Don’t swear.
  8. Be polite. Don’t be antagonistic.
  9. Do not comment on any legal matters or litigation.
  10. If the topic is one of crisis, do not comment.
  11. Google has a long memory. Be smart about what you post.
  12. Don’t post about competition unless you have written consent from them to do so.
  13. Don’t post about the company or our clients without authorization.
  14. Be transparent.
  15. Always, always, always disclose any freebies you’ve received or anything you’re getting paid to post about.
  16. If you use social media on behalf of clients, please double check you’re updating from the correct account.
  17. Don’t ever, ever leak confidential work information to the social networks, to bloggers, or to the media.
  18. Keep the line between personal and business as clear as possible.
  19. Be kind to your colleagues and peers.
  20. If you’re posting from company-provided technology or on company time, you can have no expectation of privacy.
  21. Don’t be stupid.

There are Consequences

Two days ago, Business Insider released an internal LinkedIn document that describes, in detail, how they are going to become a $1 billion company.

On every page of that document, it says, “Do not share externally,” “For internal LinkedIn only. Do not distribute or discuss outside of LinkedIn,” and “Everything on this page is strictly confidential. Do not share this information externally under any circumstances.”

And yet…

If the social media policy is violated (see #17 in this case), there will be consequences, which could include termination.

(As a business owner, I might commit murder if someone distributed something like this externally.)

Every employee must sign the policy and that creates a binding contract.

If you need help, there is a directory of social media policies already written and legally approved that you can use for your templates.

What else do you think should be included in a social media policy?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • curious because this happens all the time…..leaks sometimes are purposeful. Very possible LinkedIn hoped to see how markets will react to the document. Interestingly I feel different about them now with the publishing platform. I feel in 10 years twitter and linkedin will be here but not facebook, instagram or interest

    great list Gini!

  • Howie Goldfarb If it was purposeful, I have a different disdain for them. Pretending it’s confidential information to get media attention is really bad PR.

  • I like #21 best. I’d like to say that would be the only rule you’d need: Use common sense, don’t be stupid. But unfortunately “stupid” and “common sense” seem to be relative terms. 

    I think the most important part of having a social media policy though, is really helping employees understand WHY it is important. 

    Helping them see that you are an extension of the organization you work for, in fact you are in many ways their most public and important brand representation. There is no public/private compartmentalization, as much as you’d like there to be, so you have a responsibility to uphold that reputation. Also, making sure they fully understand all the problems improper use of social media can cause an organization: Legal, financial, security, reputation.

  • ElissaFreeman

    My instructions for today after reading this blog:  1. Print. 2. Get Scissors. 3. Cut out the list. 4. Pin up. 5. Share with clients.

  • Good list. I think most companies KNOW they need some sort of policy, as much as they may want to not fool with it. However, I think a lot of people are unsure as to what should be IN the policy.

  • I find #10 the most difficult to give guidance on in terms of policy (I am talking about a crisis within one’s own company) especially if attacked in social media in fallacious ways and more so if the individual is an expert in the area, e.g. manufacturing processes.  In many instances we are asking our employees to participate and share in social media for the company yet also want to cherry pick on just where, when and how they should or should not comment during crisis events. It can be a very gray area when individuals feel they are being professionally attacked and also separate the corporation from the individual. The common sense, legal ramifications, courtesy and stupidity items should reign but emotions during crisis can be trying to control.  A crisis management policy in such events is critical and should be clearly understood that it supersedes the general social media policy. Easy to say, not so easy to implement, especially when a crisis has not yet been fully recognized. 

    The LinkedIn memo is hilarious and no doubt someone plumbed that screw to drip.

  • ElissaFreeman LOL! That, literally, made me laugh out loud. You should cut it out in the shape of a heart. Just because.

  • LauraPetrolino Howie and I just had an offline conversation about this. You will have happy employees who won’t participate in the company’s social media and you will have unhappy employees who do. Balancing all of that is very difficult. Of course, we only have happy employees so I’m just guessing it’s difficult.

  • ClayMorgan And they don’t want a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo that no one understands and is difficult to enforce.

  • annelizhannan A great example of this is when Applebee’s was under fire for firing a waitress for posting on Reddit the receipt of the customer who wouldn’t leave more than 10% tip because that’s what you give God. It would have died down had they had a policy in place that says, “When the company is under fire, no one is permitted to respond without XXX in place.” What happened, instead, is the community manager went out on a Friday night, had a few drinks, and then started responding to everyone and getting defensive. That totally could have been avoided had there been an easy-to-understand policy about how negative comments and criticism are addressed.

    I have two feelings on the LinkedIn memo: If someone leaked it without permission, heads should roll. If they did it on purpose, they need a good lesson in ethical PR.

  • ErinFerguson

    LauraPetrolino  I wholeheartedly agree that the most important part of a social media policy is to understand why it is important. Sometimes the sentiment is that the company is being “big brother” in personal matters, but having that conversation about why the policy is in place can even empower employees to see their role as a brand ambassador, not just another worker.

  • ErinFerguson LauraPetrolino About seven years ago, a really good friend sent me an email from work—from her work email address—about what a frustrating day she was having. She complained a little bit about her boss and asked for my advice in speaking to him about the issue she was having. Turns out, the CEO read all of the emails of all of his employees every evening and they fired her the next day. Though I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach (and who has the time?), it was a really good lesson in what belongs to you and what belongs to the company.

  • It seems to me that policies need to have two distinct categories: a) when you are officially representing your org (like you are running their twitter acct) and b) when you are representing yourself and may be talking about your org via your own social media channels. But yes, there needs to be a policy and these 21 points are all critical. In our org, we dealt with health information so there was added concern about HIPAA laws and regulations. Our org had a matching gifts program (where if for example I made a charitable gift, the org would match it). When I wrote a little testimonial about this for one of the charities to which I give at their request, I (naively…) wrote a suggested blurb for our ED which said something along the lines of “having a matching gift program is perfectly aligned with our corporate value of compassion. We are happy to participate” He was. not. pleased. Having a little perspective and time, I realize that he felt pressure as an ED of a non profit of a potential headline that trumpeted how our org was “giving money to other charities” but on the flip side, our org value (one of them) WAS compassion and it was an feature of our org, fair and square. That’s the day I was told, “it’s better not to talk about us at all on social media.” Such a lesson learned but still a disappointment to this day that the org turned such a blind idea to the power (good AND bad) of social media.

  • ElissaFreeman

    ginidietrich I’ll do you one better…I’ll use pinking scissors so I can make a nice design…

  • biggreenpen That’s a really interesting perspective, Paula. When I donate money, I always do so anonymously. You know why? For that very reason. I get TONS of requests. If I donated to everything I was asked to, I’d be broke. So I have to be very careful about where I donate and how it’s communicated. Likewise, the company does some matching and we do it anonymously. So I understand his reticence…but also your passion to build your organization’s brand and awareness.

  • ElissaFreeman YEAH!!

  • ginidietrich biggreenpen Right. I suppose it’s one of those things with multiple perspectives, for sure.  I have some more thoughts but will have to hang on to them for a little later!

  • annelizhannan I think controlling emotions and top down coordination are what will make or break a business.

    When Chobani had their mold crises last summer I found out 6 days after it started. They were getting hammered in the news, twitter, facebook…yet their company posts were the same Chobani is great. Not one post in 6 days addressing the problem of people getting sick.
    I emailed their Social Media head and said ‘Your brand is at risk you must get something from Hamdi the CEO up right away, show empathy and be contrite. Which they did.. It just shows how hard it is to coordinate groups that are siloed (did someone write a book about this ginidietrich )….there needs to be top down leadership.

    If I was CEO of a sizable company I would immediately do a live stream and require all hands to watch and explain the crisis , the company’s position, and the response by them all. Problem is the company can often take a position based on being sued vs a real heart felt response. And when they do that employees will feel icky. Worst of worst is employees seeing it unfold in the news before Leadership addresses it with them.

  • ginidietrich ElissaFreeman remember for every client you send it to I get a buck two fitty and a cupcake….the mafia always gets their cut Elissa remember that!

  • ginidietrich isn’t that how Washington DC and most state and local governments operate? Of any hollywood publicists? It works! But gee those folks need to shower more.

  • biggreenpen OK!

  • Howie Goldfarb Did you read Spin Sucks?! I throw disdain at this kind of practice!

  • Howie Goldfarb I thought we agreed I get the cupcake and you get the money?

  • Don’t be stupid. Can you define stupid please, because according to my wife I have a high level of it/ but of course ‘my perception’ is I am always the smartest guy in the room…or the funniest…or the oldest….at least one of those three. 

    It is a fine line and my personal and professional online presence is very blurred. I have to be sensitive as to how a customer might perceive it and not only how it reflects on the corporation but what would my wife and kids think. Yeah, I know, no fun but it keeps me out of trouble. 

    Good list indeed and you certainly can’t stick your head in the sand on this one.

  • This rocks! Of course, stupid is as stupid does…thus the need for the other 20. 😉

  • So good. I’m often surprised by how many employers DON’T realize they can’t tell employers not to talk about their work life. And then when they find that out, how many just throw up their hands and decide it’s impossible. 
    Also: Number 21?! But what if I waaaaaana be a dummy??

  • lizreusswig Just like common sense isn’t so common.

  • bdorman264 I agree with you on all three of those things.

  • Eleanor Pierce Don’t worry…I’m sure you’ll have occasion.

  • True that!

  • Gini Dietrich

    Ba da dum

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    **bows** ^ep

  • My biggest eye opener is No. 20 “If you’re posting from company-provided technology or on company time, you can have no expectation of privacy.” And the story you relayed about your friend emailing from her work account and then getting fired? W-O-W. I guess I never considered it from that perspective. And yet I thought I had common sense! 😉

  • aimeelwest

    Jen Novotny I have a friend who uses her professional state employee email for everything! I have tried to mention that this might not be a great idea but she has been doing it for 20 years and….    Apparently it is to hard to check multiple accounts.?

  • aimeelwest

    We have talked about this at work. For exmple we don’t check into foursquare when we are visiting in with clients onsite because it would look like we spent the day bar hopping. LOL

  • aimeelwest Oh my, my. I definitely do not use my work email for personal use and try to follow the rule of not putting anything in writing that I wouldn’t say to someone’s face; it just never occurred to me that a company had a legitimately right to view my personal emails/posts if it was done with a company computer or on company time. Eek!

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