You’ve developed a social media policy with an eye toward protecting your brand and your company’s reputation. You’ve trained your employees on proper use of social media. Perhaps you’ve even guided them about the permanence of social media, and that today’s rant will live on in perpetuity – to be seen by customers, colleagues, supervisors, even future employees. You thought it was safe to go into the water (cue scary music)…until it isn’t. A recent ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) protecting employee social conversation is likely to cause a whole new set of issues and concerns for leaders grappling with how to productively leverage and manage social media, and their employees’ use of it.
Before you panic and block employee access to Facebook on the job, let’s be clear about what this ruling really means. Yes, the definition of protected activity has been expanded, but that simply means that employee conversations on social media have the same protections as they do around the water cooler. This includes conversations designed to organize employees seeking representation. And while some level of venting and complaining is human nature, the best protection against employee negativity is a positive, productive workplace and culture.
If you don’t have a social media policy today (and nearly half of companies still don’t have any policy), the good news is you are not in violation of these recent rulings. But it shows clearly that now more than ever you need one. In the absence of guidance, well-meaning employees and supervisors may say or do something to damage your reputation, or their own. And if you already have a social media policy, it needs to be updated. I’ve consulted with a few friends in the legal world, and it seems one of the biggest issues with first generation social media policies is their lack of specificity. Blanket statements about not saying anything negative about anyone or anything just don’t fly. It is probably illegal to have consequences (real or implied) for doing so. But that doesn’t mean there is no way to protect your brand and your Company’s reputation.
A good social media policy protects your employees, and their right to free speech, as well as your brand. Here’s my take on how to create a policy and an environment that is social media-safe, for everyone:
- Focus on what your employees should do…not a bunch of rules about what they shouldn’t do. Dell is a good example of this, encouraging employees to use social media the right way. Creating a culture of surveillance and hand slapping is counter-productive to the goal of using social media at all. (That isn’t to say you shouldn’t monitor – in fact, being aware of social conversation might be your best real time focus group about employee sentiment that you can get.)
- Make it a conversation. The idea that a policy to govern conversation is covered in the annual signing of the employee handbook is as ludicrous as believing you’ll meet your New Year’s Resolution goal by going to the gym on January 1. Social media policy requires use of good judgment, and ongoing conversation. In light of recent rulings, it is especially important to be sure your employees understand your policy, and that your supervisors and middle managers know how to talk about it.
- The medium matters as much as the message. Just like any communications, a well understood and adopted social media policy needs to be conveyed in a way that is engaging, simple and relevant. Check out this video SMP from the Australian Department of Justice for a great example. If a government agency can do it, so can you.
- Walk the talk/lead by example. If your leadership team isn’t socially active, they need to be. Employees follow what you do more than they will listen to what you say. Social media is all about transparency and authenticity, and that begins at the top. We’ve talked about the value of a socially active CEO at length on this blog – and the evidence is mounting. Just do it.
Social media policies, like crisis plans, are living, breathing things – not a document you dust off once a year. And keeping it relevant is an ongoing assignment. What have you done to educate your employees about social media use, and what has worked for you? Please share your ideas and advice with us here.