Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Crowd control

Policing employees' social media activity without bringing out the riot squad

By guest blogger Tamera Lang

In my last guest post, I mentioned that having a staff social media policy in place is one of the key ways to manage social media risk (if you haven't already, email us for a free copy of the BlueChip online reputation risk checklist, which sets out some of the essentials). Don't just take my word for it - lawyers are urging Australian businesses to get their social media policy in order to avoid legal action due to employee behaviour online. Last year, Fair Work Australia reinstated an employee who was dismissed for alleged inappropriate social media use because his employer did not have a social media policy in place and usual induction training on behaviour was "not sufficient". With more than 11 million Australian Facebook accounts, you would be hard pressed to find a mid- to large-sized company with no staff interacting online.

Gone are the days when only a few select employees are able to communicate about your company, brands or products in a controlled and disciplined manner. While it may be tempting to ask your staff not to communicate about their workplace at all, it's an unrealistic expectation. Social media discussions are like a cocktail party, people will talk regardless and it's better to put in place some guidelines to help your employees decide what is appropriate to say (and what is not).

Social media policies broadly need to deal with two types of social media use: personal and business. Personal social media use is the most common, where employees use their own channels to tweet, post  and blog about their own lives - lives that intersect with work. Business use of social media occurs when employees are authorised to use social media as part of their job function: for example, in the context of answering customer queries or promoting products.

At a bare minimum, the personal use of social media policy should:
  • prohibit disclosure of confidential company information (including legally privileged information, market sensitive matters and private customer data);
  • prohibit using social media to breach company policy and laws (for example, to harass, discriminate and/or defame);
  • provide guidelines on when social media is acceptable (for example, is it banned during business hours or is a moderate amount of use acceptable?); and 
  • provide guidelines on what is and is not appropriate to say about the employee's role and work environment.
The final point above is important. As I stated above, work is a part of life and it's natural that employees (particularly from younger generations) may feel entitled to pass comment on social media. It's better than an employee set the tone of what's acceptable, rather than imposing a downright prohibition. Empower and trust your employees to make acceptable comments. After all, an engaged and motivated employee is an excellent brand ambassador. Just make sure they know their boundaries: for example, they should not proclaim themselves official spokespeople and should not comment on legal matters or crisis situations. Try to keep your social media policy linked to your corporate values and/or identity, so that it resonates with your employees.

A great example of a company with a straight forward, yet comprehensive, social media policy in the financial services sector is NAB. Its policy simply requests that employees are to behave in three ways: to be transparent, to be responsible and to be respectful. And it all fits on to one page, so it's easy to refer to and remember.

While this is one example of a good social media policy, when devising your own, you should consider the special needs of your organisation and your employees. This is definitely a case of one size not fitting all. The best course of action is to get advice from your social media sign-off team (comprising of your key internal stakeholders) and external communication advisers to determine what will work for your organisation.

Tamera Lang is currently undertaking an internship with BlueChip Communication

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