Any organisation that has any some form of social media presence – even if it is only through their employees’ own social media profiles – needs to have a meaningful social media policy.
A social media policy is not a “once off” activity and needs to be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect the latest developments in social media platforms and regulatory issues, as well as any changing use by an organisation.
Just last week, for example, it was reported that Fair Work was allowing more protection to employees over comments they may make on their personal social media platforms about fellow workers or even employers. As a result, organisations need to look at the way they monitor employees’ social media and how this affects their procedures and policies.
Also last week, rugby star Israel Folau posted homophobic comments on social media. This not only led to heavy criticism of him but also rugby organisations for their inadequate and slow responses. Did they have policies and procedures to prepare them for such incidents, and allow them to give a timely response?
Social media cannot be treated separately, or differently, to other forms of communication but should be incorporated into overall communications strategies. It is simply another, but very effective, channel to add to those already used.
Any social media policy must be enforceable with employees, consistent with other company policies and practices, and regularly updated.
Properly used, social media is very effective in communicating with target audiences but it can also cause many problems for an organisation, including having damaging messages or opinion attributed to it. This can easily happen if an employee, intentionally or in good faith, misinterprets information or gives misleading or thoughtless posts on their own pages.
So what should be considered in a social media policy?
Manage from the outset
What is said on social media can cause problems, even before someone joins the company. For example, someone who has accepted a job offer might post something like “…Thrilled to be joining Biggo Asset Management to be part of a new team promoting an innovative investment product to institutions. Can’t wait to start…”
The company may have planned to make a big splash about this later at a product launch but has now been accidentally scooped.
So, while encouraging employees to promote the brand through their own social media offering might be a good way of extending the reach of messages, controls are needed from the start. For new appointments, this could include agreement not to update LinkedIn profiles until a set date.
Organisation’s view or personal opinion
Postings on sites such as LinkedIn or Twitter might be an excellent way to build thought-leadership profiles for executives in a way that also promotes an organisation. However, there needs to be controls in place to make sure personal opinions are seen as such and not reflect poorly on an organisation.
A disclaimer may not be enough if an employee goes on an ill-considered rant that raises questions about the wisdom of the organisation employing them.
Many Twitter profiles say that any retweets reflect personal views, not those of their employer. But it is doubtful whether this does much to prevent a negative impact on the organisation.
For financial services organisations, the traps with disclosure are many and varied. The same is true of public companies. Social media is not a separate universe – what is tweeted or shared online is in the public domain. Regulatory requirements must be met.
One simple example is an executive of a public company ecstatically tweeting “Part of a team that has signed the biggest deal in the company’s history” before the company announces it.
The ASX would not be amused.
Neither would the other party if they had issues with such a premature disclosure – not a good start to a relationship.
It’s not just what an employee says before he or she joins an organisation, or during their employment, but also what happens when they leave.
There may be confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses in an employment contract, but there are also a number of other social media matters that should be addressed.
One example we heard of recently was where an employee was “let go” and found it difficult to find a new job.
Rather than admit to being unemployed, he kept his previous title and job details on his LinkedIn account and it took the employer many months and a lot of follow up before it was taken down.