Why Companies Should Consider Adopting a Social Media Policy

Article

Employment & Labor Law Alert

August 25, 2009

Social media websites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, are growing in popularity every day. Increasingly, professionals are using social media websites to network, and corporations are using social media websites to connect with existing and potential customers, and to develop their brand. While social media websites have created an innovative and relatively inexpensive way for companies to market their products and services, they also raise the potential for public relations nightmares and employer liability with respect to defamation, intellectual property violations, harassment and discrimination. As a result, employers can no longer ignore social media websites and must understand both the benefits and ramifications of their employees’ social media communications.

Although communications through blogs, tweets and posts are in many ways no different than traditional forms of communications, an employer’s current policies may not sufficiently address the potential issues social media communications raise. In fact, most corporate communications and electronic communications policies fail to address the types of electronic communications that are becoming increasingly popular. Therefore, it is important for companies to not only make their employees aware that its policies on anti-harassment, ethics, privacy and company loyalty extend to all forms of communication, including social media communications, but to also create a separate written policy specifically designed to deal with the unique nature of social media communications.

Social media communications policies need to be specifically tailored to a company’s business and clearly assert the company’s position with respect to their employees use of social media websites both at work and at home. All social media communications policies should incorporate and expand upon already existing company policies and emphasize that company policies must be followed at all times, including when an employee engages in social media websites on his or her own time. These policies should also remind employees that content posted on the internet is public and that they are personally responsible for any content they post. Therefore, employees should use good judgment and exhibit a duty of loyalty to their employer that extends to statements made on the internet. In addition, employees should not publish embarrassing images and should not release any confidential company information.

Further, employers must make clear in their social media communications policies if an employee is allowed to post content on the internet on behalf of the employer, and if not, if they want their employees to include a disclaimer in their social media posts, i.e. “the views in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.” Additionally, if employees are not allowed to post on behalf of the company, they should be instructed not to use the company logo in their posts and not to write as if they are writing on behalf of the company. If an employee will be blogging or posting on behalf of the company, employers may want to review those posts first or have specific policies dealing with those posts.

When implementing a social media communications policy a company should provide training to their employees on the policy, and have their employees acknowledge their understanding of the policy. Additionally, employers should consider having someone who monitors the various social media websites for postings about the company on a regular basis. Importantly, before implementing any new employment policies, including social media communications policies, companies should first consult with legal counsel to ensure that the policy adequately protects the company’s interests and complies with both state and federal laws.