More By This Author

Current Issue

Current Issue

Posted: September 01, 2011

How to create a social media policy

Make sure it fits your company's culture

Troy Rackham, John Balitis and Carrie Pixler-Ryerson

According to a recent survey, social networking sites are a part of everyday life for employees, with 66 percent acknowledging that they visit sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr at least once a week.

Although an employee's use of these sites may appear on its face to be a personal activity in which the employer should not interfere, the reality is that an employee's private use of such sites may have consequences that impact their employer.

Is an employee who engages in social networking for personal reasons at work being productive for her employer? Is an employee's personal rant about his employer on his Facebook page placing his employer's public reputation at risk? Is an employee's personal post on a social media site regarding a client business meeting placing her employer at risk for disclosure of confidential, proprietary or trade secret information?

Notwithstanding the expanding gray area between an employee's private use of social networking sites and an employer's professional consequences, only 22 percent of employers have a policy in place to control their employees' use of social media. This statistic is an alarming concern, given the significant risks and consequences that exist from the use of social media.

So what should employers do about this problem? Although there is no bullet-proof protection for employers, they can help to avoid or mitigate some legal and ethical consequences by establishing an appropriate social media policy that fits their unique culture.

Employers would certainly be wise not to simply copy a social media policy off the Internet. The policy for a small employer may be different than that of a large employer. The policy for a school may be different than that for a for-profit business.

For example, a policy for a school may prohibit staff from "friending" students while a for-profit business may encourage staff to engage with clients and potential clients through social media as a form of professional networking - albeit with guidelines concerning proprietary and confidential information in place.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. On a general level, almost all employers should consider the same common factors when developing a policy:

• First, may the organization's employees engage in social media for personal reasons at work and, if so, are there any limits and how will the employer enforce such restrictions?

• Second, given that an employee can tarnish an employer's positive public reputation through social media activity, the employer should consider guidelines for employees' use of social networking sites.

• Third, the policy should address whether an employee is permitted to identify himself as a representative of the organization when expressing his personal opinions about the company.

• Fourth, whether the employee must include a disclaimer in his personal blogs and posts that the opinions expressed are solely his own.

• Fifth, given the liability that can result from an employee's unscrupulous use of social media, the employer should train and periodically remind employees of all other policies that may be implicated by one's online activity, such as the anti-harassment policy, anti-discrimination policy and the confidentiality policy.

Underlying any social media rules for the office should be a policy about the employer's intention to monitor employees' use of electronic communications at work. If employees acknowledge that nothing they do on their work computers is private, the employer has likely already gone a long way towards nipping in the bud inappropriate use of social media at the office.

{pagebreak:Page 1}

Troy Rackham holds the highest rating awarded by Martindale-Hubbell® Law Directory as an AV® PreeminentTM Lawyer. Selected as a "Rising Star" by Colorado Super Lawyers in 2009, 2010 and 2011. His practice includes employment and civil rights law, legal and medical malpractice and other forms of complex litigation. Reach Mr. Rackham at trackham@fclaw.com .

John Balitis practices in the labor and employment area with Fennemore Craig representing employers in arbitration, litigation and administrative proceedings.  He can be reached at jbalitis@fclaw.com mail to: jbalitis@fclaw.com .

Carrie Pixler-Ryerson practices in the area of appeals as well as in labor and employment at Fennemore Craig.  She can be reached at cryerson@fclaw.com  mail to: cryerson@fclaw.com.

 

 

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Thanks for this great info and for reminding people that while social media policies may be necessary, one size does not fit all and to take into account what your business is. There are also industries (financial and healthcare) who are regulated regarding the use social media. Toss in publicly-traded companies and it does make life complicated. The worst thing companies can do is to totally ban the use of social media. That just leads employees to create accounts in fake names and take their smartphones into the rest room to check their sites! I work with many companies on this issue and have found that when the policy is clear (but changed as needed and social media changes rapidly) and employees are treated like responsible adults, most problems are solved. By Deb Krier on 2011 09 01

Leave a comment





Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:



ColoradoBiz TV

Loading the player ...

Featured Video