TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and now Threads… social media provides employees with a million and one ways to bring a company into disrepute: from posing in uniform and bad-mouthing customers on a personal channel to making an ill-judged comment on their official page. With 98% of workers saying that they have social media for personal use, it is intrinsic to a business that they have rules in place to prevent any mishaps from happening.

Down under, the Nursing and Midwifery Council of New South Wales even had to warn its members about creating (presumably adult) content on OnlyFans. The situation came to light after Australia’s Health Care Complaints Commission revealed it had received complaints about health practitioners’ use of OnlyFans. The Nursing and Midwifery Council responded by cautioning its members, stating they risk bringing the profession into disrepute.

The dangers are not limited to such reputational damage. Bullying, a lack of productivity, privacy and cybersecurity issues, or more niche problems like accidental insider trading within financial services are all potential threats. Statistics have proven that one in 10 job seekers between the age of 16 and 34 have been rejected from a job because of something posted on social media. Being conscious of a digital footprint is more essential than ever.

This means that any employer should have a social media policy for their staff. More than this, the employer needs to make sure it is clearly communicated and, if necessary, enforced. Having a policy establishes a code of conduct to protect a company’s reputation and ensures employees know they are accountable for their actions.

What is a social media policy?

A social media policy sets out the rules and parameters of social media usage, both on a company’s official channels and, where it can be linked back to the company, employees’ personal accounts. It will also explain the consequences of breaches – linked to their disciplinary policy.

A social media policy will apply to all members of staff, from the most junior to the most senior. It ensures that all employees, irrespective of position, are held to the same standards.

Essentially, a well-crafted policy also reduces confusion by defining what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It will help staff to think twice about the potential consequences of their social media activities. It prompts them to stop and think before posting inappropriate material online.

Having a social media policy also reduces the risks of getting embroiled in legal disputes over issues such as defamation, harassment, intellectual property and copyright violations and disclosure of confidential information.

What kind of things should a social media policy include?

There are many points which should be included in a social media policy. Some of these points might appear obvious and seem like common sense, but it is essential to spell them out. By doing so, an employer leaves nothing to chance. Employees must be aware that whatever they post online may have lasting consequences, professionally and personally.

Relating to your company pages, a social media policy may include:

       Specifying who is authorised on the accounts

       A sign-off process

       Understanding copyright

       Warning against publishing confidential information

       Staying on brand (e.g., proper spellings, avoiding slang)

       Fact-checking before publication or reposting

       A complete ban on profanity and hate speech

       Careful protection of log-in details, and other cybersecurity matters

       How to escalate problems and respond to crises

There might not be as much control over personal usage, but there are important things to cover:

       Avoiding posts that will bring the company into disrepute

       Posting nothing which may be construed as bullying by colleagues

       Prohibiting personal social media use during company time

       Possibly including a disclaimer on profiles that an individual’s views are not representative of the company

What next?

Once a policy is written and approved, it should be considered the first step in creating a responsible online presence. Its success hinges on communication – every employee must see it. Adopting a systematic approach to disseminating the social media policy is essential. It should involve communication channels, such as company-wide emails, and compulsory in-person or online training sessions.

Most importantly, the employer should have a system that validates that every staff member has read and acknowledged the policy to prove they have accessed and understood its contents. This is so that they can be referred to during any subsequent disciplinary process and should any sanction be challenged at a tribunal.

Onboarding of new staff is an obvious time to do this, as well as periodic reminders to existing staff or when an employee is newly charged with operating company social media accounts.

Employees can be wonderful advocates for your business – both to customers and prospective staff. Safely harnessing the energy they bring can give a significant competitive advantage. Often overlooked, the positive impact of an employee’s influence reaches beyond the confines of their workplace. They can become powerful brand ambassadors for their organisations online and in person.

Love it or loathe it, social media is entwined in everyone’s lives now. The BBC/Gary Lineker/UK government episode earlier in 2023 shows just how much a few lines of text can derail operations when there is no clarity on what is allowed.

For further information visit HR Dept