Nearly 80 per cent of Americans use social media. Once the realm of teens chatting with their friends, social media sites have become places businesses can connect with current and potential customers. Without a social media presence, your company seems out of touch.
While you want people to talk about your company on social media, a big presence comes with risks, from reputation damage to lawsuits. Managing social media use in the workplace (and on behalf of your organization) requires a delicate touch. Here are 16 tips to help you avoid a disaster.
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There’s a lot more to social media than Facebook and Twitter. On average, social media users have eight accounts on different platforms, which could include anything from the big names to niche sites.
Some social media have specialty purposes, such as Yelp (business reviews), Reddit (forums) and Medium (articles). Each one comes with its own unique set of risks and best practices.
One type of platform you can’t ignore is employer review sites such as Glassdoor and Indeed. Here, current and former employees can rate your company, list its pros and cons and review their experience working there. These sites can provide insight into your organization’s weak points. You might even uncover issues with employees (e.g. bullying behavior, theft, misconduct) that weren’t submitted as formal complaints.
Sarah Sibtain, HR manager at The Fashion Jacket, says there should be “one designated person appointed who is responsible for reviewing and approving the content for social media. This ensures the company is associated with the appropriate, consistent and quality content at all times across all channels.”
Having one social media leader will help you avoid a potential PR disaster. What one person thinks is a timely joke could be offensive to others. The leader should make sure all posts align with your company’s values, mandate, mission and public image.
Your social media lead should take ownership of your company’s online presence in every sense. Employees can go to them for questions about your social media policy, as well as concerns about posts, from both the company and other employees.
To avoid long waits on customer service phone lines, customers may contact you on social media with questions and concerns. This is a fast and easy way to communicate with customers, but shouldn’t be handled by your social media team.
“The company has specific legal obligations regarding customer privacy and customer data, and . . . customer relations departments are specifically trained to comply with these laws and policies,” explains Kim Chan, lawyer and founder of DocPro.com.
Instead, have your social media lead craft a generic reply. This should apologize to the customer and direct them, via link, to your customer relations department’s email or complaint form.
A weak, vague social media policy puts you at risk of more (and worse) employee violations. Make sure yours is thorough from the start and encourage employees to ask questions if they’re unsure.
No two social media policies should be identical. Base yours on your company’s specific needs and values, but be sure to include:
- A list of social media platforms the policy applies to
- Consequences of policy violations
- What to post (and not post)
- Laws your company is subject to
- Who to contact with questions
With so many different rules and regulations to follow, having one policy for using social media in the workplace might not work. Instead, craft one policy for employees who are approved to post on the company’s behalf and another for all employees’ personal use.
In your social media staff’s policy, emphasize the importance of adhering to your company’s values, public image and mandate. Include a style guide to keep voice and tone consistent across posts. Finally, list specific formats, topics and types of content that should (and should not) be included in company posts.
Most importantly, update your policies often. Social media changes fast. If you don’t keep up, employees could find loopholes that endanger your company’s reputation.
Don’t forget any important sections when writing your policy! Download our free social media policy checklist to stay organized.
The most detailed part of your social media policy should be the posting rules. “Most employees usually commit social media mistakes because they aren’t informed firsthand on what is actually allowed and what is not,” says Willie Greer, founder of The Product Analyst.
Your policy needs to answer the following questions:
- Who can post on behalf of the company on social media?
- May employees post photos/videos showing inside the workplace?
- What is considered confidential information that shouldn’t be posted online?
- May employees communicate with potential or current clients via social media?
- May employees share details of sales or other company initiatives?
- What types of language/imagery are/are not allowed to be posted?
- May employees add your company logo(s) to their profiles?
Social media has made it harder to separate our work and personal lives, especially when we’re connected to coworkers on platforms. Companies should give their employees privacy online, but you need to decide where to draw the line.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says employers can’t punish employees for posting about their working conditions on social media, but they can be fired for some content. For instance, if an employee posts hate speech against a protected class (e.g. gender, race) or harassment, they can face repercussions.
“A company has to decide: What’s its reach? What’s the damage? There is no black-and-white answer,” says Betty Lochner, an HR consultant and owner of Cornerstone Coaching and Training.
To make this decision easier, prohibit behavior on social media that you wouldn’t accept in the workplace, such as harassment, discrimination, bullying, hate speech and obscene language. Treat these violations the same way you’d address a similar incident at the office, with consistent consequences for equivalent incidents.
Do you want to give employees a bit more freedom while still protecting your company’s reputation? Require them to add a disclaimer to their social media profiles.
As part of your social media policy, ask employees to include a disclaimer you write to their Twitter, Facebook and other pages. For example:
- “Views my own”
- “Opinions expressed here do not reflect those of my employer”
- “These posts reflect my views and do not necessarily match those of my employer, [Company Name]”
A disclaimer doesn’t mean you have to give employees a free pass to post hateful messages online. Its main purpose is to protect your company in case an employee does post something offensive, telling the public that the post doesn’t reflect your organizational values and views.
One of the major risks of using social media in the workplace is making hiring decisions. Legally, companies may look at candidates’ social media pages during the hiring process. However, because of the EEOC, it’s a bit more complicated.
Per the EEOC, employers can’t refuse to hire someone based on a protected class (e.g. age, gender, pregnancy, veteran status, race, etc.). Simply seeing a candidate’s social media posts could tell you this information about them. If you viewed their social media accounts and decided not to hire them, they could file an EEOC claim against you and you’d have no proof that a protected status wasn’t the reason you chose another candidate.
To ensure your hiring process is compliant and fair, separate hiring tasks. Make a list of red flags (e.g. drug use, hate speech, illegal activity) that would automatically put a candidate on the “no” list. Then, an employee who isn’t the hiring manager, such as one of their employees, should look for these on candidates’ social media. The person actually doing the hiring then has no information about the candidates apart from their names and whether or not they have posted something on the “red flag” list.
When a new, exciting change is happening at your company, employees (especially management) might want to share it with the world. But if you’re a publicly-traded company, that post could mean major fines.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) explains that “disclosure of material, nonpublic information on the personal social media site of an individual corporate officer, without advance notice to investors that the site may be used for this purpose” usually isn’t an acceptable way to tell the public information that could affect your stock prices. “Without adequate notice that such a site may be used for this purpose, investors would not have an opportunity to access this information or, in some cases, would not know of that opportunity, at the same time as other investors.”
Even if your CEO or other employee has millions of followers, the public still views their profile as a place to share personal views, not official company information. To be safe, only publish these updates to your company’s accounts.
In addition, restrict employees of every level from posting confidential company information. Leaked client lists could lead to lawsuits, and posting intellectual property or proprietary information gives competitors the opportunity to steal your company’s ideas.
Influencer marketing is a smart way to associate your company to popular figures and get your products in front of new audiences. Just like any other form of advertising, though, their posts need to be clear and truthful.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires influencers to disclose their relationship to the companies they work with, even if they only receive free products or other perks in exchange for a post. Before your influencer posts go live, review them to ensure they meet FTC standards, including a clear disclaimer that fits within the platform’s character limits.
You’ll show your commitment to truthful advertising and protect the influencer so you can continue working with them in the future.
Even if you have the most sound social media policy ever written, don’t expect employees to follow it without training them on it, too.
“Train your employees to avoid disclosure [of confidential information], discrimination and defamation,” stresses Kortney Nordrum, regulatory counsel & chief compliance officer for Deluxe Corporation. Posting these three things will almost always spell trouble for the employee and your company.
In addition, says Nordrum, “make sure your employees know that they are going to be responsible for the consequences of their actions.” Social media should include guidance on what is and isn’t acceptable to post, as well as what could happen if employees don’t follow the rules (both of the company and of regulatory bodies).
A social media disaster should be treated like any other worst-case scenario in the workplace: plan for a crisis and hope for the best.
Many top companies have made social media mistakes because they were careless. For example, Cinnabon used the death of Star Wars star Carrie Fisher to promote their product, which fans saw as in poor taste. Others have jumped on a trending hashtag without researching its origins first, For instance, DiGiorno used #WhyIStayed, where domestic violence victims shared their stories, and Entenmann’s used #notguilty, which was trending following Casey Anthony’s verdict.
To minimize damage, treat social media content as seriously as any other work put out in your company’s name. Make sure the social media leader reviews every post before it goes live. Finally, ensure your PR team has a plan for responding to online backlash.
“Trolls exist on social media . . . to make people angry and get a reaction. As soon as you respond to them, they multiply,” warns Nordrum. If customers post purposely inflammatory comments on your company’s social media, don’t engage, she says. Instead, direct them to customer relations (if they have a real concern) or delete their comments to avoid drama.
Include information about trolls in your social media training, too. Teach employees how to deal with people who try to bait them into an argument online and how to deal with trolls who comment on their posts.
One innovative way to use social media in the workplace is to practice social listening. This is “the process of monitoring social media channels for mentions of your brand, competitors, product” and any other aspects of your company you want to learn about. Customers love to use social media to express their likes and dislikes, so it’s an easy (and free) source of intelligence.
By reading what the public thinks about you, you can better focus your efforts when developing new products, improving services and even communicating on social media. You could even uncover issues you didn’t know you should address, such as a faulty product or crashed website.
Every company that posts on social media must abide by the regulations of the EEOC, FTC and NLRB. But depending on what products and services you provide, you might be subject to others, too.
Before posting on company social media accounts, brush up on which regulations you’re subject to. These might include:
- Department of Health and Human Services/HIPAA (if you in any way handle medical information)
- Food and Drug Administration (any products you consume, including food and drinks but also supplements, drugs, cosmetics and tobacco products)
- Intellectual property and copyright laws
While you probably already know what you need to follow, check in with your compliance team often to stay ahead of updates and new regulations and avoid penalties.
“The key of a policy is to manage risk,” says Nordrum. “You can’t be with your employees everywhere to prevent them from making stupid choices. But you can manage the risk by telling them what the right choices are.”
Employees will make their own choices when posting on social media. But if you give them specific guidelines as to what’s acceptable and they don’t follow them, the risk shifts from your company to the employee. Focus on preventing social media mishaps rather than dealing with the aftermath of a bad post to save time, money and stress.
Social media provides exciting new ways to communicate with current and potential customers. It’s a smart way to connect, but can have negative consequences if used the wrong way. With some careful planing and a strong social media policy, you can reap the benefits of social media with minimal risk.