[This posting is for informational purposes and should not be construed or interpreted as either legal advice on any matter or as in any way creating an attorney/client relationship]
A Good Lawyer Can Admit When He’s Wrong
A few months ago, I had a blog post about social media policies. I had already developed a few of these policies for clients, as well as our firm’s social media policy. Confident that I knew my stuff, my blog post focused on the rules and restrictions that form the backbone of a great social media policy.
A few weeks ago, I re-read my blog post. When I finished reading it, the first thing I thought to myself was, “This sounds like something a lawyer would say.”
And that’s not necessarily a good thing.
A short time after reading my blog post, I really got an eye-opener when I spoke at a global conference in Boston as a part of panel discussion on the risks and rewards of employee use of social media. My role at this conference was the risk manager. So I delivered my best gloom and doom spiel. However, the audience -- chock full of business owners and decision-makers -- wasn’t having it.
In fact, the general consensus in the room among the non-attorneys; i.e., everyone in the room except me, was that employees should be encouraged to use social media. And too many rules may have a chilling effect.
I have friends in human resources who feel the same way. Shortly after the conference, I read Mike VanDervort’s fabulous blog post at “The Human Race Horses.” VanDervort, an HR specialist, offered several tips and suggestions for human resources professionals to increase use of social media.
So I’ll admit it. I was guilty of over-lawyering. But the blinders are now off. I’ve now grasped that too many rules and not enough guidance may send the wrong message to employees who enjoy their jobs and who can help strengthen a company’s brand by sharing the company’s vision through the use of social media.
Then Again, a Little Protection Couldn’t Hurt
Even social media’s top advocates must acknowledge that trusted employees –- even those with the best of intentions -– can put their employers at risk by using social media. You’ve heard about what happened at Domino’s Pizza, right?
So why is it, then, that if so many people in the workplace are making use of social networking sites, and so many businesses promote employee use of social media, that so many companies have yet to develop and implement a social media policy?
How many businesses do not have social media policies drafted and implemented? In 2008, 90 percent of them didn’t! This year that number has fallen, but not by much. Just over 1 in 3 employers has a social media policy drafted and implemented.
If you don’t have a social media policy, don’t fret. You’re definitely not alone.
What You Need to Do
A little older and little wiser, below I offer five suggestions on how to draft and implement a successful social media policy. Some of the information comes from my first blog post; it wasn’t all bad. Heck, I even have a few more rules that I recommend to clients. Other tips flow from my continued immersion in social media and my personal encounters over the past several weeks.
Much of what I say below also comes from some of the best social media experts that HR has to offer. Jessica Lee, the editor of the blog “Fistful of Talent,” an “upscale HR pro,” and one of my favorites on Twitter, has a great blog post on what makes a good social media policy. Lee’s post links to another great article by Sharlyn Lauby. Lauby specializes in employee training and HR consulting and is also one of my Twitter faves. We’ve even worked together on a few social media articles (here, here and here). As I do, both Lee and Lauby advocate a mix of rules and guidelines for a social media policy.
And now, my five keys to social media policy success:
1. Think. Don’t Google. Developing a social media policy does not mean plugging “sample social media policy” into your favorite search engine and “borrowing” the first policy you find. It’s OK to get some ideas for social media policies by reviewing ones you find online. However, social media policies are not one size fits all. Instead, the best social media policies reflect the company’s philosophy, culture and goals. Before putting pen to paper, this process requires both careful planning and introspection. Conversely, “Ready, Fire, Aim” is a guaranteed recipe for failure.
2. Incorporate both guidelines and rules. I have come across several social media policies that I'll term "permissive." Really, they are nothing more than guidelines for employee use of social networking sites (e.g., be polite, think before you post, consider the company's vision, etc.). For an example of what I mean, check out Intel’s Social Media Guidelines.
Other policies are more restrictive (e.g., you can do this, but you can’t do that. And if you do that, you may face discipline). Go back to my previous blog post, and you will some examples of those rules and restrictions.
The best policies, however, draw from both. They contain both guidelines and some rules governing conduct. The result is a social media policy aimed at building the company brand while also protecting the company’s legal interests. (This generally also means consulting with an attorney in preparing and implementing the policy).
3. But before setting forth any rules or guidelines your policy needs to accomplish the following:
Explain that social networking activities may create unnecessary legal or business risk to the company (hence the need for a policy).
· Explain to your employees what social media is. Believe it or not, even in today’s tech age, some of them may not know.
· Explain that social networking activities may create unnecessary legal or business risk to the company (hence the need for a policy).
· Advise that the company reserves the right to monitor employee social networking activities. This is not to say that the company will automatically exercise that right. However, if employees are on notice that Big Brother may be lurking, then they are more inclined to use social media responsibly.
4. Here are some good guidelines. In terms of guidelines, I suggest incorporating the following into your social media policy:
Emphasize that employee social networking activities should not conflict with any company policies and procedures (e.g., computer use, confidentiality)
·Emphasize that employee social networking activities should not conflict with any company policies and procedures (e.g., computer use, confidentiality)
·Explain your company’s values so that employees may hopefully add value.
·Counsel employees to take ownership of what they post online. This means steering employees away from making anonymous posts. Additionally, if employees post something that is inaccurate or in poor judgment, advise them to post a correction.
·Remind employees that they must maintain workplace productivity. There is a time and place for social media use, but it should not get in the way of job responsibilities.
·Keep it civil and use good judgment. In other words, think before you post.
5. Then again, I am a lawyer. So I’m still a stickler for the rules. And among the suggestions I give to my clients:
·Prohibit employees from using social media to harass or cyber-bully one another.
·Disparagement and defamation of the company is not tolerated.
·Employees may not make use of company logos or trademarks without prior consent from the company.
·Employees must abide by all copyright laws.
·Disclosure of proprietary or confidential information is not allowed.
·Employees who have personal blogs must use appropriate disclaimer. language when blogging about matters relating the company and/or the company’s industry. (For a good example, scroll back up to the top of this post.)
·Explain that violation of the social media policy may result in discipline up to, and including, termination of employment.
My suggestions, and those of Lee and Lauby, are certainly not the be-all and end-all to social media policy greatness. The ever-changing nature of technology suggests that at some point in the future, I may look back on this post and do another follow-up. However, one thing is certain. Now is the time to address employee use of social media.
Because social media is not going away anytime soon.