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Over the last few years social media has opened up a whole new channel for businesses to interact with their customers and potential customers, promote their products and services and gain valuable ‘instant’ feedback on the work they do. Many firms encourage their staff to use LinkedIn to make business contacts, and some will have people 'tweeting' and posting on Facebook on behalf of the organisation.
But the increasing use of social media has also blurred the lines between personal and business lives and many employers have been slow to catch up with the risks associated with this. A social media policy should be considered by all organisations, whatever size, as it at least lays down the guidelines for protecting the business.
What are the risks?
Without a social media policy, a business is exposing itself to potential reputational and financial damage. There have been many cases over recent years where employees have used social media in ways which have had a detrimental effect on the business they work for. Examples of how social media can open up businesses to risk include situations where employees could:
- comment on organisations, their customers and fellow employees on social media networks;
- be using social media whilst operating machinery;
- use work equipment to post and send personal messages under their own names;
- post incorrect or abusive information under their employer's name;
- take LinkedIn contacts built up during their employment with them when they leave to go to a competitor.
What makes a good social media policy?
At one level a social media policy simply needs to set out how an employer expects its employees to behave online. Specific issues it may cover include:
- the explanation that social media sites are not private and that employees should, for example, never comment about work issues on their personal accounts, or mention the firm they work for;
- an emphasis that those people in the firm who have the responsibility for the corporate social media presence need to fully understand the importance of their role and the tone and style of the messages they issue;
- the actions the employer will take if the policy is breached (and link this in with the firm's disciplinary policy);
- rules on the use of social media during working hours;
- guidelines on the use of the business' equipment for accessing social media sites.
A social media policy should not stand alone. It needs to be part of a suite of IT-related policies, which may also cover the use and protection of equipment, data and client confidentiality.
Can I use a template policy?
There are many templates for social media policies available and, whilst these may cover the basic issues, our experience shows that they are often too generic and sometimes lacking in detail specific to the organisation and the way in which it works.