A Guide to Having a Social Media Policy

What is a social media policy and why is it so important?

A social media policy is a code of conduct which acts as a guideline for any interactions a company’s employees have on the internet, both as part of their job description, or in their private life.
As the use of the internet and social media has grown, so has the importance of any business having a social media policy. While it is important to maintain a division between an employee’s work and private life, even what an employee does privately on social media sites can have ramifications which spread into their work.  The aim of a social media policy is to help minimise any potential risk, as it is designed to ensure all employees know what is expected of them.  Most employers would say they would rather not have any adverse publicity on social media, so the aim of a policy is prevention is better than cure – if their staff know what they can and cannot do, they are much less likely to do anything you would complain about.
Some staff simply don’t appreciate that anything shared on social media outlets has the potential to end up in the public domain.   So it has become increasingly necessary to ensure that what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour is clearly set out.
In the event an employee acts inappropriately online, having a social media policy gives you a much greater argument for taking action against that employee, not only to discipline them for their actions, but also to act as a deterrent to others.  So long as your policy is fair, reasonable and available to all that are affected by it, anyone dismissed for breaching it will find it hard (although never impossible) to claim unfair dismissal.  This is not necessarily the case if you don’t have a policy at all or your policy is unfair or unclear. 

What a social media policy should cover

·         The use of social networking sites such as Facebook , Twitter and other blogging sites
o   Ensure that employees know the standards that are expected of them and in particular that they are only to use the name of the company when authorised to do so.  Even saying something that could enable readers to identify who the writer was talking about, or having a photograph of an employee in company uniform could be specified to be a breach if it was without authority.
o   Defining what constitutes acceptable behaviour can help reduce the risk of someone saying the wrong thing, as they may not appreciate what might be a damaging or defamatory comment which could bring the company into disrepute.
·         The use of the internet in the workplace or on company equipment
o   What sites your employees are allowed to visit and the extent to which they can use the internet for non-work related activities during work hours.

o   What they are allowed to do on company equipment which they have access to during their own time. 
·         Confidentiality
o   Ensure employees are aware that their duty of confidentiality extends to social media sites, and that they should not discuss work-related matters on such sites.
o   Make it clear that this duty of confidentiality continues even after they leave the company.
·         Cyber bullying
o   With social media there is the added risk of cyber bullying between employees which can lead to claims against the company which is vicariously liable for interactions between employees during the course of their employment.
o   What one employee may think of as a harmless joke, someone else can find deeply offensive, particularly if it is over a sustained period of time.
·         Disciplinary procedures
o   Where an employee is found to have breached the policy, there should be clear guidance as to what your disciplinary procedures is.
o   This should be set out in your social media policy, and should give you a clear basis from which disciplinary action can be taken.

Moving Forward

Considering the continued growth of social media, having a policy which regulates your employees’ use is an important step in the development of your company.  A good social media policy will help protect both the employee and the employer, and will ensure that neither are negatively affected through the use of the internet and social media.
Once a policy has been produced, it is important to ensure it is widely distributed and easily accessible to current employees so that they are all aware of what conduct is expected.  It is likely to be updated from time to time, in which case staff should be notified so they can read the revised version.  For new employees it would be beneficial if the policy was included in an employee handbook or induction pack which was given to them at the start of their employment.
If you would like further information on having a social media policy for your company, please feel free to get into contact with me at stephanie@kleymansolicitors.com where we offer an initial consultation for no charge.