Hiking through the mountains with a tour guide from a well-known travel company, I learned that the company recently asked all of its guides not to share their personal Facebook pages and emails with travelers on the tours. The company’s concern was that they had no oversight of what their employees were posting on their personal Facebook pages, and the management team very much wanted to maintain a professional corporate image. Similarly, tour guides were each assigned company email addresses and asked to share those addresses, not their personal emails, with tour participants.
What do you think happened? According to my tour guide, the two corporate requests remain largely ignored. When asked, guides willingly give out their personal emails and Facebook pages to the company’s paying guests on the tours.
This situation is playing out in organizations all across the country. So, what can you do when you don’t LIKE what your employees are posting on social media?
1. Establish a clear Social Media Use Policy
Employees that actively associate themselves with their employer on social media pages can be a boon or bust for the company’s brand. Without a doubt, every organization should establish expectations for employee conduct on social media in a written Social Media Use Policy. In 5 Terrific Examples of Company Social Media Policies, Jet Luga collects a diverse set of excerpts from Social Media Use Policies of several leading brands. A common characteristic of these guidelines is a definitive corporate statement of appropriate conduct on social media and often another one which conveys a lack of tolerance for improper posts.
As more social media-related employee relations cases go through the courts, there is a clear delineation emerging for lawful “off-duty” use of social media, and companies have limited rights in this area. Although an employer may find what an employee is posting on his or her social media outside of work offensive, there are some broad protections in place that limit what an employer can actually do about it. However, Social Media Use Policies can certainly assist employers trying to discourage social media misconduct in the workplace.
2. Require a disclaimer with any statement of association
Every Social Media Use Policy should include a guideline that requires a disclaimer if the employee’s association with the company is mentioned in a social media post. The disclaimer would state that the personal views expressed in no way represent the views of the company.
Also, the exact association of the employee and company should be made clear. Therefore, on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, for example, employees should have their correct title listed, not just their department. Clear statements of association and disclaimers will not alter what employees post on their personal social media, but they will differentiate company endorsed social media posts from personal ones.
3. Prohibit personal use of social media while at work
Employees that spend time checking their personal social media accounts during the workday pose a different type of issue for an employer. In some companies, employees are issued a mobile phone, tablet or even laptop as part of the job; so in reality, they are checking their personal social media accounts on a company device. Another consideration that arises is whether companies should be monitoring employee use of the internet at work, which would flag personal use of social media while on the job.
Relevant case law suggests that a clear company policy prohibiting personal social media activity during the workday is key, and the language cannot be broad-based or ambiguous. Employers can also prohibit personal use of company internet during the workday, and they can legally monitor employee activity on company devices to enforce the rule.
4. Protect your brand assets
Brand assets such as company trademarks, logos, language or even imagery are representations of your organization and its products and services. Build a corporate culture where employees become your valued brand ambassadors, and outline appropriate use of your assets in the company’s brand guidelines.
The guidelines must be specific because cases involving broad prohibitions against employees using the company logo on personal social media have not been upheld by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). There have also been cases where employees have argued they inadvertently utilized the company’s logo in a social media post without understanding its importance as a brand asset. These cases serve as a reminder that corporate communication and Social Media Use Policies should err on the side of specificity. Put imagery in company guidelines so employees have a visual representation of the company’s brand assets and are not left to wonder what they are. Also, add clear language in company material prohibiting the inappropriate use of those assets.
5. Prohibit the sharing of confidential company information
The proliferation of smartphones means photographs and videos on demand. An employee can snap a photo of an internal communication, video proprietary processes or confidential imagery and upload them to social media in a matter of seconds.
A company’s corporate communication guidelines and Social Media Use Policies can and should prohibit employees from sharing any confidential information that pertains to the organization. Just as important, the language used in the guidelines themselves must be clear to the employees. In an interesting Advice Memo from the NLRB concerning Giant Food, LLC, the NLRB ruled that the company “…failed to include sufficient limiting language and clarification of terms such as ‘nonpublic information’ and ‘confidential information….” in their social media policy; and therefore, employees could misinterpret the intent of the clause prohibiting disclosure of confidential company information.
It’s clear that social media use by employees will continue to be a trending and challenging employee relations issue for some time to come. I believe that best practice employee relations will guide organizations towards constructing Social Media Use Policies that find the balance between respecting employee privacy and protecting valuable brand assets. Companies will build corporate cultures that motivate employees to care about the brand, and management teams won’t feel as vulnerable, even if they don’t LIKE what their employees are posting on social media.
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, a technology solution that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world. Be proactive. Manage risk. Create a safer workplace.