We live in an online hyper-connected world where many people put their personal lives on display on social media. Businesses spend time crafting their own social media presence, but what happens when an employee’s social media activities conflict with the values and expectations of the organization? If an employee is posting racist, sexist, or other inappropriate content on their personal social media accounts, what actions can you take as an employer in response to that content? How can you prevent it from happening in the first place? And how do you handle it when it does happen?
As with many other areas of people management, there are three key steps to effectively managing this issue. First, seek to understand the issue. Second, write a policy that covers it. Third, educate your employees about that policy and your expectations overall.
Understand the issue
Employees often think what they do outside of work on their own time is completely separate from their work life, but that thinking provides a false sense of security. That might have been somewhat true back when employees were less visibly connected to their employer, but now our work lives and personal lives are easily connected online. An employee who is openly associated with your business by listing it on their social profiles becomes a reflection of your business, whether they post to their personal page or on your company’s page.
When an employee is hired and signs an ethics agreement with your company, they’re not just agreeing to represent you during the workday. They’re agreeing to represent the company all of the time and to abide by the company’s values.
When a company starts talking about social media policies related to personal accounts, employees may push back a bit and argue that social media posts done on their own time and devices aren’t subject to company oversight. Others may say they have freedom of speech. But again, the employees are representatives of your company who have agreed to abide by the values and ethics of the company.
Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. In an at-will employment state, an employer can terminate an employee for not aligning with the company’s values, regardless of where or when that lack of alignment was identified. As with any policy violation, it’s important to ensure you’ve educated your employees about the policy and documented any violations to protect the company should an issue reach the point of terminating an employee.
Create a clear social media policy
When creating your social media policy, you should include both specific guidelines or expectations and a section on general responsibility.
Specific guidelines should cover things like not sharing operational procedures or intellectual property on social media accounts. It might also include scenarios where an employee must disclose their association with your business or post a statement indicating the opinions expressed are the employee’s alone and not those of the company. That sort of disclaimer is more often required if an employee is involved in politics, nonprofit, or faith-based activities where the company wants to remain neutral.
A good social media policy also includes a section on general responsibility, which addresses the broader scope of what is and isn’t acceptable. For example, this section can address racism, sexism, harassment, threats of violence, making disparaging comments about disabilities, etc. It reminds employees that the way they interact with others online is not only a reflection on them, but also a reflection on the company. This is a section where educating your employees about the policy is highly important.
The third component of a strong social media policy is a clearly outlined reporting process. If someone brings to your attention a post violating your social media policy, everyone should know the process for documenting and addressing the policy violation.
Educate your employees
After creating your policy, take the time to train your employees and answer their questions. This is more than a one-time distribution of the policy — it’s about creating an ongoing, honest conversation around these expectations and how they tie into company culture and the company’s values overall.
Implementing a social media policy isn’t about controlling your employees, and that needs to be clear in the conversations you have with them. You’re not going to start watching every single thing they say on social media, and you’re not saying they can’t post about issues that are important to them. But you are asking them to engage with others in a way that aligns with the company’s values because they are a representative of your company. You’re asking them to think twice before they post something that’s offensive and to understand that there could be consequences if their actions violate the values or ethics of your company.
The majority of your employees post to social media in some form on a regular basis. Many will be easily associated with your business because they’ve listed their employer in their profile, and any posts they make could reflect positively or negatively on your company. Taking the time to craft a social media policy and educate your employees on what’s acceptable helps protect everyone involved should an issue arise.
If you need help adding a social media policy to your employee handbook and aren’t sure where to start, reach out to us at WhyHR. We can help you write a social media policy that fits your business needs