Social media policies may not seem the most exciting aspect of driving forward adoption of new technologies as part of the communications and marketing mix.
Yet to my mind their importance is so great that they should really be a pre-requisite before an organisation deploys social media.
When thinking about the potential of social media, employers are often put off by the perceptions of lost productivity, leakage and potential liability risks. Given social media usage is likely to increase and most individuals using it are also employees, employers need to ask themselves if it is really less harmful to leave employees to their own devices or rather to provide them with appropriate social media capability and guidance. We believe the solution is to have social media policies embedded in each organisation.
Organisations need to be really clear with their staff about what, as an employer, companies expect their staff to do and not do using social media in relation to their work (or indeed in a broader context where that use could impact on the company or its interests).
That means having a social media policy that staff know and understand. And that’s grounded in sensible reputational risk management as well as good HR practice too.
The need for such a policy is emphasised by this case where a UK employment tribunal has ruled that “negative comments about work by an employee does not instantly justify a dismissal”.
In this case the tribunal found that comments made by an employee about her company on social media were relatively mild and did not involve any confidential information. It also took into account that the company’s commercial interests would have been unlikely to have been damaged by what happened. Other mitigations included the fact that the comments didn’t refer to the company who she worked on behalf of and the fact that the member of staff had apologised immediately.
A social media policy is important for making clear to staff their responsibilities in using social media and should be a starting point – but it’s not the only thing companies need to manage this type of social media risk. The solution comes back to effective people management – as with so many of the issues around social media, the solution lies in good management practice independently of social media.
Social media is about connecting people. Which means a risk from its use is that people are by nature individual and sometimes do the unexpected. So good people management is a major part of what’s needed to help manage this risk.