Do Your Employees Even NEED a Social Media Policy?

Social media policies weren’t something companies even needed to deal with just a few short years ago. Now they’re a hot topic for most HR pros, especially if you’re the first one hiring in your company. Setting up an HR Department requires thinking through this potentially thorny issue. And it’s not just for small companies, when attracting the right talent, all companies need to recognize the importance of social media policies to today’s worker.

Cisco recently interviewed college students and young professionals from all around the world about their personal feelings toward social media in the workplace. The results? Your organization’s future employees put a surprising amount of weight on the prospective company’s social media policy. As social media becomes more and more important to this up and coming workforce, you should address the pros and cons of social media polices at work in order to make an informed decision about whether or not your company needs a social media policy.

Some prominent voices in the space say that social media policies are ridiculous and tough to enforce besides.  

HRExaminer editor and attorney Heather Bussing, social media policies should be defenestrated across the board. Employment policies are not the best way to solve management and employment problems, explains Bussing, who has spoken and written extensively on the topic. Treating employees as adults and not spelling out specifically how they should act on social media is the right path toward a more responsible and respectful workplace. Traditionally policies have done very little in the way of keeping people from going ahead and doing exactly what they want.

Policy or not, if someone is being unprofessional or out of line, they should face disciplinary action or even termination. Policies or lack thereof don’t make up for common sense. If you’re worried about your employees bad mouthing you on a social network, you have the wrong employees to start with. If you have a truly great team and a good company culture, you won’t have to worry about it, policy or no policy.

But if you must, she recommends social media policies like that of Zappos, “Be real and use your best judgement.”

Other practitioners maintain that policies make the HR world turn and social is no exception.

On the flip side of the coin, Elizabeth Lalli Reese, Head of Corporate Human Resources at ACE Cash Express and an HR practitioner, contends there is a real need for workplace social media policies.

People conduct themselves online much differently than they would in person. People lose their filter, and that’s when things can get ugly. What happens online, doesn’t stay online and can impact your work environment in unforeseeable ways. With no social media policy in place, there is the potential for serious and costly lawsuits involved in social media libel, costing everyone involved time and money. And while treating people as adults and encouraging them to “use their best judgement” sound good on paper, a social media policy can act as a guide for people who may not know where the line is drawn.

Creating and enforcing a social media policy helps everyone play by the same rules and hopefully, creates an environment where slanderous, libelous, harassing and other frustrating social media situations don’t occur. But if they do, here are some tips for staying ahead of the libel game in this post.

A blend of setting expectations while maintaining a long leash may be just what the average company needs.

Social media has impacted the workplace dramatically in a short period of time. Consider the recent firing of Adria Richards from SendGrid and the social media at play in multiple stages of the evolving and highly controversial case. Or the inability for NBC newswoman Ann Curry to send a supportive tweet when ABC “rival” Robin Roberts was ill? Social media at work encompasses much more than we originally anticipated. Experts agree that the best social media policies:

Are a set of evolving guidelines. Guidelines, rather than policies are the name of the game, says blogger and HR Pro Sharlyn Lauby. Updating your guidelines regularly to stay current is just as important. Keep in mind that social changes very quickly, so what worked in 2009 may not work today.

State who is an approved social media spokesperson. This is different than stating what your employees can do in relation to work topics on their accounts. If you don’t give people guidelines on who is speaking for the company and who isn’t, you can run into lots of pesky situations.

Aren’t illegal. Workers have always had the right to talk with each other with the goal of improving pay, benefits, and working conditions and are legally allowed to do so online. Check to make sure you aren’t trying to enforce something that you don’t fully understand.

Is as specific as possible when it comes to proprietary or confidential information. Any employee that is dealing with sensitive information likely already knows how to behave offline (it may even be covered under other policies) but for safety’s sake, make it clear in your guidelines.

If you are considering drafting your own social media policy, here is a great resource from Social Media Today for examples and resources.

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

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