What to Include in an Employer Social Media Policy
Key Points about creating a social media policy for employees:
- A social media policy provides guidelines for how employees should conduct themselves online.
- Creating a social media policy can help you stay compliant and protect your company’s reputation.
- Download our free Social Media Policy template for a sample policy you can use to get started.
80% of Americans use some form of social media. With so many people online, what your employees say or do on social media can have a wide-reaching impact on your business.
For this reason, it’s important to create a company policy that outlines proper social media use. With the right guidelines, a social media policy can help your business reduce risks and liabilities, stay compliant, and protect your company brand.
What is a social media policy?
A social media policy is a set of guidelines for personal and professional social media use. In other words, it explains how your employees should conduct themselves online.
Why do employers need a social media policy?
What happens online rarely stays online. Social media is far-reaching and someone’s online experience with your company or one of your employees can create conflict and impact your brand’s reputation.
A social media policy helps keep these risks to a minimum by outlining proper social media use. A policy can help keep your brand consistent across platforms, boost trust, and cultivate a reliable user experience. A policy can also help prevent privacy violations, harassment and disparagement, and other liabilities.
What’s included in a social media policy?
What you include in a social media policy depends on your specific organization and any relevant legislation. In most cases, though, comprehensive social media policies contain the following information.
Guidelines for company-owned social media use
If your organization has a Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter profile, outline your procedures for managing these accounts. Consider:
- Who owns your company’s social media accounts?
- Who knows the passwords?
- Which employee(s) can speak for your company online?
- Who is responsible for posting on your company’s accounts?
Data security risks can accompany social media use. To help keep your data secure, your social media policy might include information about:
- How often passwords are changed
- How often software is updated
- Any other data security procedures and concerns
Employee social media rights
While social media policies exist to guide your company and your employees online, various laws protect your employees and can restrict you from taking certain actions. For this reason, it’s important to know what your social media policy can and cannot cover, especially when it comes to employee social media rights. Check Federal, state, and local legislation and have your legal advisor review your policy before taking any action.
When creating a social media policy, consider privacy laws first and foremost. Whether your employees’ social media profiles are public or private, respect their privacy and try not to monitor their accounts.
In some cases, it’s illegal to monitor their online presence without obtaining the appropriate consent or permission. Monitoring an employee’s social media account(s) can also be risky if you discover information under a protected class or about a protected activity. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on “race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.” If you monitor an employee on social media and then take adverse action against them, you may face discrimination or retaliation claims. In addition, monitoring employees may indicate that you don’t trust them and it can cause their engagement to plummet.
Some states and localities may have additional rules regarding employee privacy on social media. In California, for instance, Assembly Bill 1844 prohibits employers from “requiring or requesting an employee or applicant to disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing personal social media, to access personal social media in the presence of the employer, or to divulge any personal social media accounts.”
Employee speech on social media
Various regulations may also protect what employees are allowed to “say” (or post) online.
For example, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects free speech. If you’re a private employer, you may not be subject to the First Amendment. As long as you’re consistent and non-discriminatory, you can still discipline employees for speech in many cases. However, you cannot discipline employees for speech that is protected under another statute.
Once such statute is the National Labor Relations Act, which protects employees’ right to engage in or discuss “concerted activity,” or protected activities that address or improve working conditions. These include labor or union-related related activities, such as the right to form or join unions.
Some categories where you have a bit more flexibility as an employer include:
Anti-harassment & anti-defamation
You can encourage employees to be respectful online and ask them to avoid posting comments that could be considered threatening, harassing, or defaming. Let them know that you may request to see their social media if they’re being formally investigated for misconduct.
You can prevent employees from sharing confidential company (and client) information on social media. This includes insider tips that could affect stock prices.
Again, take care not to restrict employees from sharing concerted activity. For example, your employees should be free to discuss wages, working conditions, and other protected issues.
You can also restrict employees from presenting personal opinions and beliefs as the company’s own. Make sure employees know who can and cannot speak on behalf of your company.
Employee social media use at work
In many cases, you can set rules regarding appropriate social media use at work. For example, you might ask employees to refrain from using social media during scheduled work hours unless it’s part of their job. However, you must stay compliant with the National Labor Relations Act mentioned above and take care not to restrict employee engagement in protected activities.
State and local laws
Most social media policies include the sections above. However, some states have additional general internet privacy laws and others have social media-specific requirements.
Always check your state and local legislation to ensure you stay compliant with any additional laws and requirements.
How a Social Media Policy Template Can Help
Crafting a social media policy may sound involved, but you don’t have to start from scratch. Download our free Social Media Policy Template for a sample policy you can edit to suit your business. As with any policy, make sure your legal advisor reviews your social media policy before sharing it with your employees.
Once you finalize your social media policy, remember to share it with employees so they’re aware of your expectations and any disciplinary action. Keep in mind that social media changes quickly. Revisit your policy each year to ensure it’s still up to date.