Social Media Influence on Employer Policies
In the past decade, social media has woven its way into the fabric of our personal lives and transformed the way businesses and employees function. In 2015 the Pew Research Center pegged the number of adults using social networking sites at 65 percent, up from 7 percent when it began tracking social usage 10 years earlier (Perrin, 2015). Whether it’s through smartphone, laptop, desktop or tablet computer, everyone can swipe, tap, or click their way through social feeds at any time of the day.
Recognizing that social media impacts everything from person-to-person relationships to the economy, organizations have adopted and revised social media policies over the years in order to help set everyone on the same path. Employers know that it is unrealistic to assume an employee with access to social media will go through an entire workday without doing something as simple as checking a status update. They also know that stripping employees of their ability to connect with the world on social media, or constantly monitoring their activity, can have negative, potentially legal consequences (Kumar, 2015). With a set of rules in place, workers and organizations can both feel more secure.
Rules for personal accounts
While some people may argue that whatever is posted on a personal social media account using a personal device is not their employer’s business, the goal of an internal social media policy is not to punish employees, but instead to create trust and protect the reputation of the employer and employee (Karlsson, K., Rokka, J., & Tienari, J. 2014). Without an internal social media policy, a company risks seeing internal squabbles, trade secrets, or other personnel matters show up online, traveling at “viral” speeds, and creating potentially costly scandals.
Even something that appears harmless, such as an employee tweet that reads, “So excited to launch our new product!” may reveal too much about an organization’s internal workings. That sentence could tip off the competition to a new product, or it may get customers excited too early about the product’s launch. The employee may think nothing of it and argue the tweet was too vague to result in negative consequences for the company. On the other hand, the employer may argue that the employee should never mention company business online. A social media policy is meant to put employer and employee on the same page. However, as stated by Ference and Lapidus (2014), an employer should “consult with an employment practices attorney to ensure that policies and procedures do not prohibit what may be deemed protected concerted activities.”
Some companies, such as Adidas, have policies that mandate employees make clear that personal opinions are their own, thus separating themselves from the brand (Jet, n.d.). This “views expressed are my own” disclaimer can often be found in a person’s profile. However, legal experts warn that you shouldn’t assume your personal disclaimer absolves you from any blame if your poorly worded or insensitive tweet comes back to haunt your employer. These are “talismans that people wave in hopes of fending off legal liability,” according to attorney Dan Schaeffer (Feeney, 2013). Your actions, as a representative of your company, will have an impact on your employer, whether or not that was your intention.
It’s about trust
Having a crystal clear social media policy communicates to the employee that he or she can be trusted with today’s evolving technologies. This trust can result in a morale boost, and an organization can see its employees transform into brand ambassadors when they generate positive publicity about their employer on social channels (Karlsson, K., Rokka, J., & Tienari, J. 2014). In contrast, an organization that limits or denies employee access to social media may end up hurting its reputation. Not only can this limitation leave employees feeling that they aren’t trusted to act responsibly on social media, customers or competitors may see it as a drastic overreaction, antithetical to the company’s mission, and possibly a violation of the law (Staab, 2014). Social media is a collaborative tool, one that can be used by employees to communicate with each other and an organization’s customers. Removing that access is akin to turning off the lights and locking the front doors. You’re essentially telling your customers that you’re closed.
Working with outside agencies
There are many reasons for a company to outsource its social media. Sometimes the operation isn’t large enough to handle the responsibilities, or the team’s efforts need to be focused elsewhere. Sometimes an organization just doesn’t “get” social media. In these cases, it’s smart to turn to a social media agency, but you still need to establish rules and boundaries, otherwise you create the potential for major public relations debacles.
Many people can point to the 2011 incident involving Chrysler’s Twitter account as a prime example (Kessler, 2011). When an employee of the auto brand’s social media agency posted an insulting tweet about the City of Detroit, Chrysler was forced into damage control, the employee was fired, and the agency’s contract with Chrysler was not renewed.
The incident set off debate over how companies and their social media agencies should handle access to social media accounts. In the five years following the Chrysler tweet, brands have expanded to several new social platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat. The volume of social media accounts belonging to one brand cannot be managed without guidelines and a social strategy, whether that is determined by the brand or its partner agency.
Social networks are not random websites that employees browse during the downtime of their workdays. They are tools for communicating with the rest of the world. Internal social media policies not only bring clarity to the question of what is and what is not appropriate to post online, they can also unify an organization by giving employees a greater understanding of the company’s mission and vision.
Written by Jason R. Latham, Content Manager for Bridgepoint Education.
Feeney, N. (2013). Why Twitter Disclaimers Like ‘Views Are My Own’ Won’t Save Your Job. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/nolanfeeney/2013/06/11/twitter-disclaimers-views-my-own-retweets-not-endorsements-social-media-law/#4e3ff04b198f
Ference, S.B., & Lapidus, L. (2014). Are Social Media Posts Protected? What Employers Need to Know About the NLRB and Social Media. Journal Of Accountancy, 218(5), 20-21.
Jet. (n.d.). 5 Terrific Examples of Company Social Media Policies. HireRabbit. Retrieved from http://blog.hirerabbit.com/5-terrific-examples-of-company-social-media-policies/
Karlsson, K., Rokka, J., & Tienari, J. (2014) Balancing acts: Managing employees and reputation in social media. Journal Of Marketing Management, 30(7/8). 802-827.
Kessler, S. (2011). Chrysler’s Twitter Account Accidentally Drops the F-Bomb. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/03/09/chrysler-drops-the-f-bomb-on-twitter/#bgegmQ2ebiqZ
Kumar, S. (2015). Why Monitoring Employees’ Social Media Is a Bad Idea. TIME. Retrieved from http://time.com/3894276/social-media-monitoring-work/
Perrin, A. (2015). Social Media Usage: 2005-2015. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/10/08/social-networking-usage-2005-2015/
Staab, A.E. (2014). 6 Tips for Creating a Social Media Policy. Benefits Magazine, 51(5), 14-20.