Your Social Media Policy should also be your Social Policy

In this age of social media, organizations of all sizes are starting to think very carefully about how to approach social media as it relates to their employees, both in how their employees represent the company brand through their personal channels, and how they represent themselves as it relates to the company.

There’s a fine line between controlling your company brand and giving employee’s freedom to express themselves, but it’s a line company leaders need to consider and pay attention to.  And it’s not just what employees tweet, post on Facebook or upload to Instagram that matters.  What your employees do in both the physical and digital worlds says a lot about your company, whether you like it or not.

Ray Rice NFL advocacy

Ray Rice: NFL Employee Advocate?

Take for instance the recent Ray Rice domestic-abuse fiasco the NFL had to deal with.  The video that surfaced of Mr. Rice attacking his wife in a casino elevator had very little to do with his profession – it didn’t happen while he was working, at the office, or even at a company-related event.  But, with video evidence of his actions surfacing all over the web, the NFL, whether it wanted to be or not, became entangled in the mess, and it became a clear example of how employers will inevitably be responsible for their employees’ behavior.

In this case, social media was a conduit for the negative PR generated around the NFL and how it manages employee behavior (specifically violence) off the field.  There are examples of professional athletes taking to social media to post rants, negative thoughts/comments that, even when their direct employer (team or league) isn’t mentioned, cast a negative light on their employer, forcing a response/action.

It’s important that you take the time to consider how your employees’ behavior and choices outside of the office impact your organization, and how you can effectively manage/monitor this without having to “police” them.

One way to mitigate the risk would be to screen employees on social media before you hire them.  Find their profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and get a sense of the tone and context of their communication.  If you see anything that you deem a “red flag”, consider the repercussions of this kind of thing while the employee is branding themselves as a member of your organization, before you make the hire.

Companies must introduce a formal social media policy for their organizations.  If you don’t know where to start, use a social media policy template like the ones found here.  While drafting this policy, consider addressing behavior outside of the office and employees should practice their best judgment to behave in a way that reflects positively on your company values.

In this policy, address how employees should represent your brand when sharing any kind of content related to your organization – a job opening, a whitepaper, or news.  Employees can be your best advocates but they need some direction about how and what to post about your company.  Give them the ability to exercise their own “voice” but also caution them about pushing the limits with anything that might be deemed controversial and could get you into legal hot-water.

A well-thought out social media policy can be a fantastic spring-board towards motivating your employees to advocate on behalf of your company.  Employee advocacy is on the rise, statistics show that people respond better and more actively to information shared by people they trust.  Imagine the reach you have in the social media ecosystem with 20, 100, or 10,000 employees.

Don’t assume that your employees know what they should and shouldn’t be saying about your company online.  There are obvious cases (like a “quite period” for any pre-IPO company) where employer legal teams will remind employees not to mention specific things that could jeopardize their position, but your social media policy needs to be more global, not just ad-hoc.

Look into some of the best practices listed on the Social Media Policy Database and see how you can integrate some of that thinking into your unique company culture.  But don’t wait – while a formal social media policy won’t make you 100% immune to a fall-out like the NFL had recently, it will at least ensure you are doing your due diligence to cover your bases and educate your staff.