Friday, Facebook threatened legal action against companies who require applicants provide usernames and passwords so prospective employers can see what applicants and their friends post on social networks. Now, it’s not clear what legal recourse Facebook has if businesses refuse to obey their demands, but shutting down the business’s Fan Page appears likely for violators. This action could cost firms tens of thousands or millions of dollars.
Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer had this to say about employers asking for applicant’s passwords:
If you are a Facebook user, you should never have to share your password, let anyone access your account or do anything that might jeopardize the security of your account or violate the privacy of your friends,” Egan wrote. “We don’t think employers should be asking prospective employees to provide their passwords because we don’t think it’s the right thing to do.
Facebook’s stance highlights the changing climate which causes clashes between individual privacy rights and corporate protection. And, without a strong social media policy, firms not only face possible legal action, but lose what is becoming a mandatory marketing channel.
The Balancing Act of a Social Media Policy
Not only do firms face the challenge of creating a social media policy dealing with applicants, they need a policy allowing employees privacy. Shutting down conversations on social networks not only tells employees you don’t trust them, it cheats the firm out of an outlet to personalize the firm and create engagement with customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
First Amendment Rights might also be at stake if your social media policy is too restrictive. But, without a smart social media policy, you’re at risk of losing trade secrets or having employees say things that damage your brand’s reputation.
Elements of a Smart Social Media Policy
1. Be clear on what types of conversations are allowed and what types of conversations are barred.
But, don’t make a social media policy that bans all social media conversations — these likely won’t stand up to legal challenges, destroy employee morale, and waste a valuable source of engagement. According to Mashable, firms should:
Refrain from comments that can be interpreted as slurs, demeaning, inflammatory, etc. The Internet is full of varied opinions, and it’s okay to share yours, but you never, never, never want to be branded a racist or narrow-minded or an unstoppable hot-head.
Firms need to monitor what employees say in social media — but not through accessing employees social networks, but through public listening posts. Remember, your social media policy should stipulate these policies are in effect whether the employee uses their own equipment on their own time or that of their employer.
2. Establish consequences when employees violate the policy.
Employees must clearly understand these consequences. If employees are critical of the firm, it’s an opportunity for the firm to ferret out sources of discontent and fix the problems. There shouldn’t be consequences for this type of speech. Once you’ve fixed the problem, share your fixes on social networks. This not only improves employee morale, but improves your brand image.
If you remember employees are your internal customers, you’ll treat them better and your social media policy should reflect this.
Your employees should understand that companies can and will monitor employee use of social media and social networking web sites, even if they are engaging in social networking or social media use away from the office. Employees should always think twice before hitting ’send‘; consider what could happen if your organization sees what the employee publishes on the Internet and how that may reflect not just on the employee, but also the company.
3. Empower employees.
Encourage employees to respond to customer complaints they find in social media. Reward them for their efforts and empower them to fix problems without going through a lot of red tape.
4. Keep an eye on your bottom line.
Allowing employees to participate in social networks, even during working hours can be a productivity drain. Instead, your social media policy should direct employees regarding expectations to maintain productivity. It can be difficult to parse employee actions on social networks between work related activities and purely social activities. And the natural blurring between the two necessary of effective community building makes this even more difficult.
5.Distinguish employees who have a legitimate role in participating in the firm’s social networks.
You really don’t want the firm’s social networks being a free-for-all. But, you also don’t want so much bureaucracy that the firm’s social networks don’t deal authentically with their community. For instance, we worked with a client once who wanted to approve each Tweet before it went out. That won’t work and your social media policy should establish what legitimate social network managers for the firm can say and establish an approval process.
An approval process I believe works in social media is to have strategies approved by management, including the tone of conversations, sources of information legitimate for disclosure, who might post on the firm’s social networks, and the proper blend on personal and professional sharing.
6. Develop standards and metrics related to the use of social media by employees.
If you’re going to use employees effectively as part of your social media efforts, your social media policy should contain standards and metrics to guide behavior. For instance, if employees are required to monitor company social networks, they should have standards and metrics in terms of how they respond to customers, such as responding within 24 hours.
Personalize Your Social Media Policy
It should be obvious from this discussion that there’s no such thing as a standard social media policy. Your social media policy must be customized for the specific business and context.
And, we’re here to help. Hausman and Associates partnered with a local law firm to provide customized social media policies. Please contact us so we can create the right social media policy for you.