A Matter of Policy: Protecting Employees and Your Brand on Social Media

In the spirit of social media, you want to encourage and empower employees to share, interact, voice their opinions, tout their philosophies and overall, express themselves freely. You also want them, as representatives of your organization, to remember their roles and responsibilities related to said organization, their fellow employees, and their signed agreements to uphold all company policies. After all, they will be held accountable for any potential breaches, no matter how innocently committed.

It’s our job as communicators to advise our company’s leadership and human resources teams about the risks as well as the benefits of using social media for branding and other goals. As intellectual property, content ownership, authors’ rights, privacy, and other issues make their way into the courts by way of social media’s increasing popularity, organizations of all kinds are seeing the need for evolving their employee policies related to media relations, electronic communication and other related areas.

I’ve seen firsthand how necessary these policies are. And they can be tricky to create and enforce. From my observations and research of many companies with social media policies that are considered great, the best social media policies follow a process that includes the following:

  • They are created in collaboration with internal decisionmakers from human resouces, information technology, security, legal, marketing and perhaps others depending on the specifics of your organization
  • The executive team agrees about the necessity for the policies, and the new policies have at least one influential champion to guide them through the process
  • They are created over time, with patience to gain all the right buy-in within the organization
  • Once they are created, the new policies are publicized internally, with a simultaneous and coordinated effort to educate all employees about the new policies (after all, they can’t be reasonably held accountable for policies they don’t know about, right?)

Successful policies themselves contain these elements:

  • Ethical conduct and legal reminders
  • What constitutes “confidential information” at your organization
  • Boilerplates and disclaimers to include in any personally owned social media
  • Contact information for PR team for clarification or situational assistance
  • Clearly state what’s at stake if policies are breached (as HR policies, the same sanctions should hold)
  • Remember federal and local laws and guidelines in addition to company rules.
  •                       A great example is the FTC Guidelines, which applies to “endorsements” in advertisign and communication, and suggests that marketers should be held accountable for disclosing material connections, disclosing typical experiences, that marketers are to be held liable for false information and that they should insist on full disclosure of relationship by all participants. http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm
 
 I know many of you are creating and have created great social media policies. If you’d be willing to share these with us, it could help us learn a lot! Thanks-
Jaya
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About Jaya Koilpillai Bohlmann
Global corporate communication, business, and organization behavior executive; author. My blog, DesigningCommunication, offers inspiration, insight, and tips for all professionals who want to express themselves effectively, and lead with integrity.

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