Social media is not a fad that will simply go away and businesses cannot pretend that social media has no impact on business.
As important as it is for a business to have policies addressing harassment and discrimination, so too is policy regulating social media and its use. Even if your business never establishes a social media presence, your employees and competitors will. Therefore it is important to understand how social media works and to have a social media policy of some sort.
Social media policy
Understanding the need for a social media policy is the first step in social media risk management for your business. A social media policy is designed to navigate through ambiguity and to clarify certain responsibilities when it comes to posting material online.
It also works to establish principles for employees when they are using social media for work and personal reasons, more so when the employee’s relationship to the employer is known or presumed.
It is important to note that we are subject to the same laws and professional expectations in person, that govern our day-to-day lives, as when interacting online.
Tailoring your social media policy to suit your business
In preparing a social media policy for your business, it’s important not to take an extremely aggressive approach. This would involve over regulating or worse banning employee use of all social media.
The objective is to tailor your social media policy to suit your business needs. This involves managing the realities of social media and its effects as it applies to your business.
Do’s and Don’ts when preparing social media policy statements
Prohibit employees from being discourteous, inappropriate or disparaging policy statements
Most businesses have a provision in their policy that states that all employees are expected to be courteous, polite and friendly, both to customers and to their fellow employees. The use of profanity or any such activity, if it remains unchecked, has the potential to harm the image and/or reputation of the business.
However, it is important to note that the wording of policy statements is important as many have been revealed as being unlawful. For example, the use of statements like “prohibitions on making defamatory comments”, “on saying something online that may damage any person’s reputation” and “use technology appropriately” have been construed to restrict employees from discussing wages and working conditions or otherwise voicing objections on business practices, which is unlawful.
Prohibit disclosure of confidential information statements
Social media has instilled even more fear of the possibility of information becoming a trending or viral topic or even being in the hands of the competitors. Therefore the statement drafted to include the protection of confidential information must not be too broadly phrased. For the sake of clarity it must explicitly lay out what information is considered confidential.
Prohibit discourteous or disparaging employee conduct online after working hours
How your employees conduct themselves outside of working hours on social media, through comments and/or images is also liable to harm the company. However, when preparing such statements employers should be cautious of not unduly infringing on employee’s privacy. Therefore, said statements must be clearly outlined.
Statements such as “personal use” may be interpreted as referring to personal use of social media during working hours. In addition, the statement should explicitly state whether employees who do not identify themselves as being affiliated with the business are still counted as representing the business on social media and, as such, subject to policy statements about their conduct after working hours.
Tips how to draft a social media policy
1. Avoid using general undefined statements
2. Avoid using subjective statements or terms that place discretion in the hands of the business as to what does or does not violate policy, but do not actually define what is prohibited.
3. Stay abreast of all developments in the area of law as social media is constantly evolving.
About the author: Monisha Prem (BA MBA) is the CEO and senior legal practitioner at Excelsur Legal Services. Monisha is an admitted attorney with over 10 years post-article experience in law.