Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay.
In 2019 the total number of users hit 3.484 billion across a wide array of social platforms.
And it’s not hard to see why.
From Facebook to Twitter to YouTube, social media platforms have revolutionised the way we connect with the world around us. We can share information instantly on a scale never seen before to create online communities that exist for our personal and professional use.
But it’s not just down to the individual. Social platforms serve as the perfect place for brands to create a connection with their customers in new and exciting ways. Social media — when used strategically — can be one of the most engaging platforms for marketing today.
Despite how influential social media is today, 73% of companies don’t have an official social media policy.
“It’s a dialogue, not a monologue, and some people don’t understand that. Social media is more like a telephone than a television.” Amy Jo Martin
Social media can have a huge impact on your organisation, from the productivity of your staff to the way that you use it to interact with your customers. Without a clear and concise policy, your organisation and your employees are at risk in more ways than one.
What is a social media policy?
A social media policy serves as a set of guidelines that lets your employees know how to act appropriately regarding the use of social media, whether on a personal or organisational level.
Employees should have access to your social media policy as part of the on-boarding and induction process, and be able to consult it at any point during their employment.
What should your social media policy cover?
Your policy should clearly outline the appropriate and inappropriate use of social media in your workplace. At its most basic level, it should align with current legislation and the security needs of your organisation, coving topics such as:
- Sharing confidential information or in-house operations
- Posting information or pictures that imply or depict criminal actions
- Posting defamatory, inflammatory or dangerous content.
However, like other policies, your social media policy should take in to consideration the needs and goals of your organisation, and they can come in all shapes and sizes as a result.
Here are some of the key things your policy should address:
1) When to use social media in the workplace.
Social media can blur traditional boundaries between work and personal life, so it’s important to set out clear guidelines for when, if at all, employees can use social media in the workplace.
Outlining when it’s appropriate to use social media in your policy depends on the aims, goals and working culture of your business.
If your organisation chooses to prohibit the use of social media during working hours your policy should state this clearly, particularly if it relates to workplace safety and security. You may also want to outline if and when social media can be used during breaks and at lunchtime.
Some employees may use their personal media accounts as a way to create professional connections across their industry. If this is true for your organisation, your social media policy should include acceptable time frames that highlight when and how long employees are able to use their accounts during work hours.
No matter what your organisation’s position is, it’s important that your employees know exactly where they stand on when, if at all, it’s appropriate to use their personal social media in the workplace.
2) Appropriate use of personal social media policy
It’s important to remember that, while you may want to protect your brand, you can’t control what people write about your organisation, including what your employees say on their personal social media accounts.
Discussions surrounding free speech and freedom of expression online have been around longer than social media has, and there are certain laws that your business needs to consider.
The Human Rights Act 1998 – ensures that all individuals have the ‘right to respect for their private and family life, home and correspondence.’ In short, employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to separating their private lives from the workplace.
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 – Details the extent to which employers can monitor or intercept employees’ communications on private and company networks.
Although you have a responsibility to respect the rights of your employees, they also have a responsibility to you. While your social media policy can’t dictate what employees can and can’t say, it can outline the responsibilities that employees have to act reasonably and responsibly online.
Organisations can bring disciplinary action against an employee for online behaviour in cases where their actions are unlawful, unfairly brings their employer’s reputation into disrepute or causes harm to their colleagues through online harassment.
While these issues may be covered in your code of conduct and anti-harassment policy, they should be reinforced in your social media policy so that employees are aware of the impact their social media activities can have.
Ultimately, your social media policy should be fair and balanced -be mindful of your employee’s rights, but also be clear on what you consider appropriate online behaviour regarding your organisation and current legislation.
3) How to use your organisation’s social media
If your organisation decides to use social media as part of its marketing strategy, your policy should highlight the best practices you expect your employees to follow.
Audiences should feel comfortable engaging with you online, so the tone you use can have a big impact on engagement. But in a world of highly competitive brand personas, mistakes can be easily made, which can damage your reputation and create a PR meltdown.
Be mindful of the language you use online, and include it in your social media policy to ensure a consistent tone and messaging across your platforms.
As a result, your policy should include clear guidelines on how to create posts and establish a process to ensure that your social media posts are aligned with the aims and goals of your business.
Providing a clear guide on how to engage your audience can help your team to build rapport with your customers, get ahead of any issues, and may even give rise to positive and organic customer experiences.
Responding to conflict
Whether its a customer service issue or an online faux pas, tensions can rise online if not directly addressed or responded to appropriately. Maintaining confidence and using the right tone for the situation in all of your online interactions is essential to prevent an issue from becoming a PR disaster.
Use your policy to provide guidelines on appropriate responses, and that staff members know who to go to within the organisation to handle any issues that develop online.
It’s important to ensure that any information that your organisation posts are well researched and accurate. If your audience thinks you are careless with your content, it could damage your reputation and credibility not just with your customers, but within your industry as well.
Outline the editing process that your employees should engage in from start to finish and make sure that everyone knows their role in ensuring the accuracy and quality of the information you put on your social platforms.
Like many other internal systems, social media can come with its own security risks, so It’s important to establish a clear process regarding access.
Who has the authority to post on your accounts and engage with customers? How are passwords/created/changed/distributed? How is access assigned or removed? What are the potential risks?
Having a policy that addresses these questions can ensure that your employees are aware of how social media can affect your organisational security.
5) Relevant legal guidelines
As we’ve seen, social media can often be a grey area in terms of legislation, so it’s important to highlight these concerns in your social media policy.
Things you may want to cover include.
- Privacy and disclosure procedures
- Copyright law
- How to credit sources
- Industry-specific regulations regarding content (e.g medical, legal, financial)
Including a section dedicated to these legal considerations in your social media policy ensures your organisation remains compliant and that your media activity is above reproach.
Every organisation will have a different approach to social media, but one thing is certain – the needs and goals of your business can play a big part in determining your approach.
As a result, creating an effective social media policy in the workplace can feel like a daunting task – but it doesn’t have to be.
Remember, a policy not just about setting restrictions – it’s about ensuring that everyone understands what’s expected of them regarding the use of social media in the workplace.
So conduct research, assess your roadmap, examine your work culture, and even ask your employees what they think. The information that you find can be the first step in creating a fair, balanced and effective social media policy in your workplace.
Need to train your staff in the appropriate use of social media in the workplace? Check out the EssentialSkillz Internet, Email & Social Media course.