According to 2018 data provided by SCORE, the largest provider of volunteer business mentors in the United States, 77% of U.S. small businesses use social media for their sales, marketing, and customer service. If you plan to use social media to promote your business, a social media policy is essential to protect your business’s reputation and avoid litigation by preventing the dissemination of inaccurate, unflattering, or illegal information.
Here are a few tips for creating a social media policy for your business:
Let employees know that the guidelines are intended to help them understand how to use social media in a positive way to help the business grow. This is an outcome that will benefit both the business and its employees. Rather than simply providing a list of restrictions, present the guidelines in a manner that encourages employees to promote the business to potential customers, contacts, friends, and family members.
Educate employees about what they can and cannot share. Clearly define what information is considered confidential or proprietary and emphasize that if an employee is unsure about whether their post includes information that falls within these categories, they should check with you or another designated employee.
Note: The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employees cannot be prohibited from posting information on social media about pay, benefits, and working conditions, which may be considered a form of “protected concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act.
Provide your policy to new employees and have them sign an acknowledgment that they have read and understood it. Your policy can be included in your employee handbook or a separate document, but requiring employees’ signatures will ensure that it is not overlooked. It is also important to review the policy with all employees on a regular basis.
Create standards for any employees who are allowed to post information on your small business’s social media accounts. Because your reputation can be impacted by social media posts, emphasize that all information should be presented in a professional manner, and posting about controversial subjects should be avoided. It is best to give specific examples. Provide guidelines for responding to negative online reviews in a respectful and consistent way. In addition, specifically prohibit postings that would place the business in legal jeopardy. For example, make sure employees give proper credit to any sources they use in their posts to avoid copyright violations. Your business could be held liable for anything your employees post illegally on the business’s social media accounts.
Emphasize that the policy also applies to posts relating to your business made on employees’ personal social media accounts. Employees will often be associated with your business, even during non-working hours. Instruct them not to post anything that would create the impression that they are speaking in any official capacity on behalf of the business.
Note: Some states have passed “off duty conduct” laws that may prohibit employers from disciplining employees for online actions that do not occur during working hours.
Let employees know that they are responsible for their postings and that failure to adhere to the social media policy could result in adverse employment consequences. This warning will encourage employees to be cautious about what they post online and to double-check with you or another designated employee if they have any doubts about the content they intend to post. As noted above, under the National Labor Relations Act and state law, employers may be prohibited from imposing disciplinary action for some postings.
If you want to take full advantage of the opportunities for your business presented by social media, we can help you draft a social media policy that complies with the law, safeguards your business’s reputation, and protects it from unnecessary litigation. Contact us today to set up a consultation.