With the adoption of social media by organisations continuing to accelerate unfortunately in my experience, all too few organisations have established a social media policy which puts their organisation and their people at risk.

I recently delivered a workshop to fifty communications professionals representing some of the largest organisations in Ireland and there were less than ten percent of attendees who had established and communicated their social media policy. In most cases where social media policies had been established, the Irish business was part of a multinational company.

Establishing a social media policy is not as simple as some social media consultants would have you believe when they recommend developing your social media policy based on those publically available from other organisations. Doing so puts your organisation at risk as a number of social media policies are starting to be cited as contravening employees rights.

In the US, the National Labor Relations Board has produced guidelines and stated that all employees have certain rights under federal law that a social media policies can’t compromise. They reported earlier this year that the ambiguity in most policies technically violates the law by potentially restricting these rights. In other words, some of the social media policies that have been established by organisations in the US may be unlawful. A recent example is that is the case in the US where The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that parts of Costco’s employee handbook violated the National Labor Relations Act.

I personally recommend that we need three types of guidance to support social media programmes:

1. Internal social media policies – applying to your people and also those who represent you

2. Guidelines for those managing your social media channels – so that there is clarity on who will post content, how to handle queries and importantly, what content should not be posted or amplified such as in the case of a re-Tweet

3. Guidelines to protect members of your online communities, for example your blog comment policy, policies for your forums and social networks including your LinkedIn Groups, a comment policy on your Facebook Page, all of which which should be publically available.

Six Steps To Help You Develop Your Company Social Media Policy

Through my years as an HR Director working and living in three continents, I also learnt that employment policies differ significantly across the globe so as you consider developing your social media policy here are six recommendations to help you:

1. Recognise that your social media policy will need to reflect your sector and the market you are operating in – for example if you operate in an industry that has codes of practice that you must comply with

2. Ensure that your social media policy takes into account your current policies and guidelines

3. Seek support from your legal team, IT security and compliance team and other business leaders of your organisation whose teams are using or plan to use social media to support the organisations goals. (If you are reading this article and are not an HR or communications professions, make sure that you engage representatives from those teams)

4. Remember to engage your employee representative body to ensure their support for your social media policy

5. Develop your social media policy so that it reflects your organisations values, culture and stage of development in terms of social media adoption

6. Engage the insights and experience of employees in your organisation who are active users of social media both professionally and personally – this is especially important if you are not familiar with using social media.

Employment Policies That You Should Reference When Developing Your Social Media Policy

As you develop your social media policy , take into account current policies that are in place (this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, just a prompt to get you thinking) including:

  • The Contract of Employment
  • Confidentiality and privacy
  • Equal Opportunity
  • Internet Use and computer security
  • Copyright and Intellectual Property
  • Disciplinary Policy
  • Bullying and Harassment.

Your Social Media Policy Is An Essential Element Of Governance When Developing As A Social Enterprise

Establishing governance practice and processes relating to the use of social media in the enterprise will ensure that you help protect your organisation against liability for the actions of your employees. Providing guidelines for employees on what they can and cannot say about the company can assist you in complying with the employment laws on discrimination, data protection and protecting the health of employees, all of which are essential to the reputation of your company and your employment brand.

It may only take 15 seconds to establish a Twitter account, but as we see time and again untold damage can be done in relation to how your customers and the public at large perceive your organisation, products and services in less time that it takes to type 140 characters.

What actions have you taken that you found helpful when establishing your social media policy?