By Erin Friedlander, Kessler PR Group
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Ben Franklin wisely advised. Truer words were never spoken when it comes to safeguarding an organization’s hard-earned reputation on social media. The rewards of increased exposure and community engagement are balanced with proportionate risk. Miscommunication, ill-conceived posts, and poor reactions are common among users – including companies and organizations.
However, social media use is an integral part of people’s daily personal and professional lives. We would be foolish to ignore it completely. For this reason, having an established social media policy within your organization – and making it known to all employees in the earliest days of their employment – is a critical step in preventing a reputational mishap.
Don’t Rely on Common Sense
While most social networking engagement may be harmless, we cannot assume that common sense will automatically kick in before a team member posts a questionable meme, photo, video, or comment. We have all seen the negative – and sometimes long-lasting – impacts when employees “go rogue” on social media, intentionally or unintentionally. Either way, social media activity can lead to a sticky, and sometimes costly, situation.
For this reason, even though social media has been around for quite a while, many organizations still grapple with developing, enacting, and enforcing an effective, up-to-date social media policy that is consistent with employees’ rights. Unfortunately, many leaders and decision-makers only discover their outdated policy is not working when they are trying to put out a fire that threatens to burn the house down.
How to Prevent Reputational Fallout on Social Media
Follow these tips to promote appropriate social media use during and outside work hours:
- Provide Clear Guidance
Set forth a simple, easy-to-remember overview that reflects the mission, culture, code of conduct, or overall expectations of the organization. Include consequences for violating the policy.
- Relay Established Protocols
It is appropriate to state that social media use is prohibited during work hours, for instance, or that taking photos and videos at the workplace is prohibited for privacy or security measures.
- Re-direct Media Inquiries
The policy may also state that employees are not authorized to speak on behalf of the organization. Rather, they should direct media and other inquiries to a designated person, who will handle the matter appropriately.
- Review in Person
Don’t bury the policy in the employee handbook and assume all will find it, read it, and understand it. Review the policy together during an employee’s onboarding process – or in a small group setting. At that point, you can offer to address any questions. Reinforce the guidance, as needed.
- Document It
Once you have reviewed the social media policy with an employee, require that they acknowledge that they have read and understand it. Keep this record in their employee file.
- Stay in Your Lane
Legal restrictions vary by state. However, in most, an organization’s social media policy cannot prohibit employees from discussing work – including salary, benefits, working conditions, and work-related complaints – on social media. It also cannot require employees to share their personal account information or log-in credentials with their employers, nor can it restrict their interactions with others within or outside of the workplace, including members of the media. However, as stated earlier, you can emphasize existing policies and protocols intended to re-direct questions or concerns to the appropriate persons in the organization.
- Get Legal Sign-off
Consult with an employment lawyer, who can ensure that the language in the policy is aligned with state and federal laws and regulations (e.g., first amendment, privacy, copyright, etc.).
- Revisit & Update Regularly
Social media use is constantly evolving, and new platforms can gain favor – and followers – quickly. For that reason, your policy should be a living document that is reviewed and updated to reflect the times. Assign someone in the organization with this task, and make sure they do it at least annually.
- Provide Clear Guidance
No matter the nature of your organization or its size, take time in 2023 to develop and implement a thoughtful, up-to-date social media policy – before a reputational threat hits. You’ll be glad you did.