November 21, 2011

Building an Organizational Social Media Policy

Anna Mathieu

Anna Mathieu

Building an Organizational Social Media Policy

By Anna Mathieu, Marketing Communications Manager, Redfish Technology

 

Social media as a marketing tool for spreading a business’ name and mission has become invaluable in many industries. A company’s social media marketing strategy aims at building the company brand, recruiting new talent, fostering collaboration and communication, and driving innovation.

When considering a social media policy, a company must consider the opportunities and threats in terms of: a) employee work-related social media use, b) employee personal use of social media on-the-job, and c) employee personal use of social media outside of work. The use of social media by employees both at work and off work can have both positive and negative consequences, ones that should be thought through by each company in light of their marketing strategy, company mission, and other individual aspects.

The risks of social media use include lost productivity, physical harm (a distracted employee could cause physical hazards by neglecting to monitor their surroundings), and electronic attack (malwares, virus). The risk of injury to a company’s reputation via an employee’s use of social media can happen on-the-job or off.

Work-related social media use:

Employees’ use of social media at work can be a direct or indirect part of the marketing strategy. Employees may actively engage with customers and partners, building industry contacts and relationships; they may solve client problems, streamline processes, and provide services. Social media use by employees can enlarge the viral marketing efforts and reinforce the company’s branding efforts and online reputation. The marketing and relationship opportunities of social media use are multiplied by the amount of employee engagement.

Policy should consider the uniformity of the marketing message and company branding. When marketing plans are put together there is obviously consistency and coordination of the visual and intellectual message, this should be extended to include how employees portray the company on social media be it content and tones of blogs, company branding and messaging on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and other sites. The power of branding is that it consistently reinforces who the company is and what they do; consistency should be maintained throughout all company external communications.

Employee personal use of social media on-the-job:

The personal use of social media at work can have benefits. Employee productivity and engagement can be enhanced by allowing a little break to be connected, creative, or humorous. People often need to get a virtual social errand done (much like taking a call during work hours to organize a carpool or child pickup) or getting a little virtual water-cooler distraction. This often allows us to return fresh to the task at hand with renewed focus and productivity. Often a little update on what is exciting at work that day may not be a formal part of the employee’s job description but may help enhance the excitement around a company by promoting the company’s culture or successes.

There are some risks of such personal social media use on-the-job as well. Overuse may cause lost productivity by diverting the staff’s time and focus away from fulfilling orders, making sales calls, or writing software code. Physical harm could be caused by distracting or neglect; for example, a pilot texting while flying or a machine operator looking at social media updates could cause a hazard or accident.

Another significant threat whether the social media use is for-work or personal is electronic attack. Malwares and viruses can take over an email program, infect a computer, and take down a network. The loss of productivity can be enormous, and the risk to the company’s data security can be catastrophic. An IT policy should address computer protection, and should take into consideration employees’ authorized and unauthorized use of social media in the workplace or on company equipment.

Employee personal use of social media outside of work:

Outside of work people talk about work. Sometimes they catch up on work, sometimes they celebrate or lament work. Depending on what employees are doing and saying and how that may be identified with their employer, it can be quite tricky to try to control and to address in policy. An organization’s social media policy should address what work-related topics are inappropriate on personal media, and what personal topics are inappropriate on work-connected dialogue – all while being cognizant of and respecting labor laws.

Where it is clear: Disclosure of certain information can be prohibited. For example, trade secrets and proprietary information, financial information, and client records and identity, are all protected information that should never be disseminated via work-related or personal social media communications.

Where it is tricky: It is very hard to regulate what employees say on their personal profiles or non-work hour discussions. Free speech protects employees griping about being overworked and a myriad of other issues that may not be desirable from the company’s perspective. Some states even have laws about whether or not an employer can read their employees’ personal social networking profiles. Beyond naming the clearly prohibited disclosures, consult with an attorney on writing any part of your social media policy that address non-work discussion parameters and before making any employment decisions due to a conflict of information shared on a personal profile.

 

When embarking upon the creation of a social media policy, we also recommend the HR Specialist article “How to Draft a Social Networking Company Policy”.
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