Apple. Coke. Nike.
Most large, well-known companies have established policies protecting their brands and trade secrets from employee social media blunders.
But what about small businesses and local governments? Surprisingly, very few have developed meaningful, enforceable policies. And many of those who created technology-use policies haven’t updated them to include emerging social media platforms.
The city of Youngstown recently adopted a new technology policy, which includes language about the use of social media during work hours and on city-owned machines.
Drafting and introducing these policies is much easier than you might think.
Build Your Own Social Media Policy
The great news is you don’t have to look far to find good examples of social media policies for your industry. Whether you own a local doughnut shop or direct the local sewage-treatment plant, there are many templates for social media policies online. Just do a quick Google search to find one that fits your needs.
Good social media policies have a few basic tenets in common:
1. Policies are “living” documents, which means they should be reviewed and updated on a timely basis.
What’s timely? Most social media experts suggest reviewing and updating your policy on an annual basis. The Youngstown technology policy was last updated almost 10 years ago – right around the time Facebook and Twitter were becoming household names.
Plus, social media options are changing so fast that without regular reviews of your policy, it’s very likely that you’re missing important language about some new technology. For example, if your policy is referencing MySpace as a major social media platform, it might be time for an update.
2. Be fair and flexible. Remember that social media use is all about sharing and collaborating. Workplace policies that limit those abilities may harm product and employee growth, and stifle customer engagement.
In fact, it might be useful to include language that actually encourages social media use for those very reasons – to share and collaborate – especially when it’s work-related.
Technology retailer Best Buy has a well-recognized, often duplicated, corporate social media policy. Their policy title reads, “Be smart. Be respectful. Be human.”
I try to encourage small businesses to stay away from absolute rules when possible. But I also understand there are some cases in which using terms such as “must” and “always” are necessary. Balance is key.
3. Identify consequences for violating the policy. Best Buy’s policy, although flexible, also includes language about what could happen if you violate the policy.
According to the Best Buy social media policy, if you break a rule, you could “Get fired ... get Best Buy in legal trouble with customers or investors. Cost [Best Buy] the ability to get and keep customers.”
Also, be sure to include language about due process. If an employee stumbles and posts something that could potentially damage your business, have procedures in place for reviewing the social media mishap, even if it leads to firing that employee.
Your employees will learn something from it, and you will, too.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor of communication studies the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on social media and society.