I have run a few small businesses over the years and increasingly it seems necessary to provide people with a social media policy so that they know how they should use social media when at work.
Of course how you police this policy (and the degree to which people have a right to privacy when using online systems at work) is open to a considerable amount of debate but before anything can be enforced a set of reasonable and fair guidelines need to be established and communicated.
My proposal for a template social media policy is shown below. However, you should not use this wording without checking with your HR department or lawyers to get their approval!
Social media policy for companies
Social media are online public spaces where you can share information with friends, colleagues and strangers.
These spaces can be principally for social purposes such as Facebook, for business purposes such as LinkedIn, or for both such as Twitter. In addition there are numerous discussion forums in media owner and retailer websites where you can debate industry issues or review products and services.
These guidelines are intended to help you manage your use of social media in respect of your work life.
Remember that legally you are personally responsible for anything you say online. Just because you are on Twitter or Facebook doesn’t mean you can say anything illegal or libelous. You should also be careful not to breach copyright or infringe trademarks when posting to social media sites.
As an employee of the company we assume you want to do well in your career; and as part of that we assume that you want to help the company thrive. Therefore please follow these guidelines when mentioning work-related matter in social media spaces.
If you mention our company or our industry in any social media please do use your common sense about what is appropriate and what isn’t. The first question you should ask yourself when posting anything online is “Would my boss be happy to read this?”
However strongly you feel, it will never be appropriate to post in a public space defamatory or uncomplimentary comments about the company, your colleagues and peers, suppliers and clients, even if you are only joking. If in doubt, ask your line manager. Never post if you are angry about something.
Never use a company social media account to post anything of a personal nature – unless it has some positive relevance to the company (for instance you have just completed a fun run that the company has sponsored).
Never talk about clients or work you have done for a client without getting the OK from your line manager first.
Never reveal confidential information about the company, our suppliers, our clients or anyone we have an NDA with in a public space.
By all means blog, contribute to online discussion groups, tweet or post documents on websites about industry issues. However, be very careful to avoid making it seem as if your comments are officially held by the company. Your blog is your opinion, and not that of the company and you should make this clear.
Remember there are special rules about disclosing financial information. Remember that you don’t need to include financial details to break the rules: saying something as simple as “the company is doing really well” could get you into trouble. If in doubt, ask.
Using social media at work
Within the working day, please limit your use of social media websites to one or two 5 minute sessions, unless your use has some relevance to your work. Of course you can use social media for the whole of your lunch break should you choose.
If your profile on business social sites like LinkedIn, Xing etc shows us as your current employer and you link to our website on your profile, you can update your personal pages (e.g. upload presentations and whitepapers you have written), or search for contacts, whenever you want, so long as this doesn’t impact on your main job performance.
You can use Twitter to tell people about new documents on our website or other relevant business links that you feel colleagues and peers in other companies will find useful, whenever you want, so long as this doesn’t impact on your main job performance.
Your personal web pages
Respect your colleagues. Don’t post to your personal web pages inappropriate pictures of work colleagues at company or industry sponsored events. This includes any content that would show up your colleagues or company in an uncomplimentary light. A useful question to ask here is “Would my (or their) mother be happy to see this?” This is common courtesy. And remember: you still have to work with your colleagues after you have made a post so be careful not to upset people.
Ensure you protect the privacy of colleagues and peers and don’t gossip about them in a public space unless you have their permission.
Always remember that it is easy to misinterpret comments about people so take care when joking about colleagues and peers and be sensitive to people’s feelings.
If you wish to write a serious blog about industry matters, or to participate in serious discussion forums, you may do so whenever you want, so long as this doesn’t impact on your main job performance.
Before you contribute any comments, make sure you get your facts straight. It won’t help anyone if you make yourself look stupid by writing something that is obviously untrue! If in doubt, check with someone else.
Not everyone will want to engage with you in debate publicly. So enable people to reply to your postings privately via email.
Participating in discussion groups
When participating in public online discussions display a professional demeanour at all times. Never display anger about what other people say. Never be rude to or dismissive of other participants.
If you see our company or a colleague being misrepresented, use facts rather than opinion to defend them; alternatively do not respond and inform your line manager instead.
If you are angry about something do not respond online. Wait until you have calmed down! Think twice before you post any response.
Do not impersonate colleagues or peers when online.
If a journalist contacts you about a comment or posting you have made in a public space then refer them to a colleague who is entitled to represent the company to journalists. Alternatively, say you will get back to them, and then check your response with your line manager.