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Recently, I published a post that struck a nerve with a reader who will remain anonymous. That reader lashed out at my idiocy in several ways, including via a popular social network.

The wasted effort at insulting and haranguing me would have been quickly forgotten if not for an interesting observation: my cyberstalking critic executed his childish attacks through multiple accounts all associated with his employer, a small services-oriented business.

On one of those accounts, I discovered other rude, obnoxious and downright classless 'content' not directed at me.

I asked myself, "Would any self-respecting employer tolerate such online behavior? Has this person's employer seen his digital masterpieces? What would a prospective client think of the company and its people if they discovered this?"

According to one survey, 8% of companies in the United States have fired an employee for a social media flub, while another 20% have disciplined an employee for social media misbehavior.

Of course, there are a variety of legal question marks when it comes to social media and employees. But that should not distract from the social media policy: something many companies recognize they should have, but something which few do.

One of the biggest challenges: deciding what a social media policy should include. No policy is ever perfect, and when it comes to there's a fine line to walk between being unreasonably restrictive and overly liberal.

At a minimum, a social media policy should serve as a common sense reminder for employees about how their social media activities can impact the company that pays their bills. With that in mind, here are three things to mull over when grappling with the development of a social media policy.

Your employees reflect on you whether you like it or not

Thanks to social media, your company's newest, lowest-paid employee may garner more online attention than its CEO.

That means one thing: every employee has the potential to either help or hurt your company's image and reputation online. Once you recognize this, the need for a social media policy becomes clear.

Separation of work and play? Difficult, but not impossible

At the end of the day, you can't fully control what your employees do, and you shouldn't try to. But many companies shy away from creating a social media policy because they believe the legal uncertainty is too great.

That's not always the case, however. Employers typically have a lot of power. Many jurisdictions permit employers to exercise great control over what employees are permitted to do with company equipment, email accounts, and to set reasonable policies for behavior that is unacceptable.

In the United States, the First Amendment does not give employees free reign to say anything while on the job or in the context of their employment.

The key to a good social media policy is setting clear expectations about what's appropriate and what isn't. Are employees allowed to associate their social media accounts with the company? Can they name clients, or reveal information that a company may have a reasonable basis to claim is classified?

What disclosures will the employee be expected to make to clarify that a comment doesn't reflect the views of the company? Is vulgar language, sexual innuendo or harassment ever acceptable behavior?

The best policy is to avoid dolts before they become employees

At the end of the day, policies are only as good as the people asked to adhere to them. If you hire people with no class, you can't expect them to miraculously acquire it while on the job.

That's why a social media policy shouldn't be just serve as a set of guidelines for employees; it should be written in such a way that it can serve as a screening tool for the company. More and more companies are looking at the social media profiles of prospective hires.

Thanks to the ease with which social media 'background checks' can be completed, companies can often make sure that prospective hires are living up their social standards before they extend an offer.

Here are Econsultancy's 10 social media guidelines

Patricio Robles

Published 28 July, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2379 more posts from this author

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Stuart P Turner

I totally agree with the sentiment of this post, however I disagree with the idea that social media needs compartmentalising in this way.

"At a minimum, a social media policy should serve as a common sense reminder for employees about how their social media activities can impact the company that pays their bills."

Yes it should - but you don't need to create a whole new policy for this; most companies will (or should) have clauses in the terms and conditions of employment in their contracts, or in their employee handbooks, covering behaviour.

These simply need to be extended and/or amended to cover modern technologies, including social media. I think the current trend of needing a new x for social media is one of the reasons people feel they can get away with this kind of behaviour - because it's beyond the reach and understanding of employers.

If your standard policies cover it however, social media ceases to be the hidden bit behind the bike sheds, it becomes a front row seat in assembly.

almost 5 years ago

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nick@brickmarketing.com

"every employee has the potential to either help or hurt your company's image and reputation online."

Great point! That's why I'm so against the idea of a "Twit-ern." Why would you put something as powerful as social media into the hands of someone who has no real knowledge or ties to your company?

almost 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Stuart,

Many attorneys are recommending that their clients create "social media policies." Whether these should be incorporated into existing policies or not, I think the primary point is that social media creates some unique situations and gray areas that should be addressed directly in some fashion.

almost 5 years ago

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Matthew Read

Some great points well made. We are seeing this becoming more of an issue, especially with the whole separation of work and play.

I think a crucial aspect of this is who the task is assigned to. I know a lot of companies just put an intern or new staff member in charge of their Twitter account but I bet they wouldn't put them on the phone to clients, yet Twitter can be seen by all clients and the whole world!

I think it is important for whoever is using it to remember that they are representing that company and their brand online, but equally it is important for someone high up to watch over this and assign the task to someone who can do it professionally.

almost 5 years ago

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Claire

Hi - thanks for this...but does anyone have any EXAMPLES of social media policies/templates?

We are hearing all this info (expecially in Government depts) but no one seems to have any examples or templates to show us...

Much appreciated!

almost 5 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

almost 5 years ago

Kris Littlewood

Kris Littlewood, Digital Marketing Assistant at English Lakes

I was going to ask a similar question to @Claire which Has already been answered. Thanks @Paul.

Since this is a hot topic for debate at the moment I would like to see if Econsultancy could also provide some template documents or some more documents on writing such policies similar to how Econsultancy provide templates for website terms and condition and privacy policy's.

almost 5 years ago

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Brandt Dainow, Director at ThinkMetrics

Witherspoons recently fired a barmaid for making nasty comments about some customers on her Facebook page, and there have been a number of situations where people have stated on their Facebook page that they wouldn’t let their worst enemy do business with their employer, which has an obvious negative impact on the company. I’ve also seen situations where staff have held their employer liable for “unflattering” photos of themselves drunk at office parties appearing in other employee’s Facebook pages.

The barmaid at Witherspoons took them to the courts for unfair dismissal, but lost because of Witherspoon’s IT policy which said that it would take disciplinary action if the content of any post or blog, including pages on social sites such as Facebook, was found to lower the reputation of the company, its staff or customers and/or contravened its equal opportunities policy. Its disciplinary policy also made it clear that a failure to comply with the IT policy would amount to gross misconduct, which makes it a dismissable offence. I was impressed with this as I thought it managed to cover everything with a very simple statement. The courts upheld Witherspoons, but did say it would have been better to give her a warning on the first offence. So in the UK at least, we now have pretty clear rules on what to do.

almost 5 years ago

Claire Thompson

Claire Thompson, Freelance PR consultant at Waves PR

Sorry you had a 'stalker' not fun!

To respond to some of the responses, Mashable has some great template policies to work from:
http://mashable.com/2009/06/02/social-media-policy-musts/
http://mashable.com/2009/10/02/social-media-policy-examples/
(Old, but a good start point)

BUT: I'd urge caution before using templates - no two policies will be the same, because no two companies are the same - and the policies will apply differently to each department.

Many companies already have policies for email, telephone and electronic communications so it's simply an extension of this, but unless discussed, debated, all the 'what if's' examined, it's as useless as a chocolate teapot.

Social media has made PR pervasive - everyone's responsibility, starting with the HR team. Both in terms of recruiting people whose behaviour is in line with company ethos, and in ensuring that they're trained and policies enforced.

almost 5 years ago

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Laura Bazile

Hello,

Very interesting article and so to-the-point since companies are still learning how to deal with this.

I will go further as a few days ago I was precisely reading here on EC a community manager interview, who works for a SEO-related business: all was there, a few tips, not too much promotion and that is it.

What was really interesting if I may say is that accidentally a few dissatisfied customers posted immediately outrageous comments about how furious they were about their service and they were waiting for an answer ?!% It was coherent enough to understand that it was not a fake. I was wondering when "this" happened what is the company policy? Where are the guidelines you mention here? who is responsible? should they post a press release? should that be worse?

Like you said, once you are aware that you are not speaking to a robot (@Pablo - being cyberharanguing means that there IS someone behind, obviously ...), what are you including in your social media policy regarding disclosures from inside AND from outside?

The quality of article and comments here show how "sensitive" this topic is and what is still on progress.

Laura

almost 5 years ago

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katie

:)

over 4 years ago

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katie

i think this is right

over 4 years ago

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