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The importance of implementing a social media guideline for your organization

This morning I hosted my second blab, ever. This blab was prompted by my morning coffee + social media headline search. Today it was an article on the Michigan Live website:

Bill requiring districts to adopt social media policies moves forward

As we know, social media can blur the lines between personal and professional. To ensure that schools adequately set out expectations, the Michigan Department of Education will draft a model policy. If the bill passes, school boards will be required to get input from teachers & administrators before passing a policy. (Excellent!)

Here in Canada, I polled my ‘teacher’ friends to see if they already had policies in place. From Cape Breton to Calgary, it was unanimous that they did (of course, varying degrees.)

Having a guideline is important for your organization (whether you’re private or public, government or corporate, not-for-profit, big or small) because courts are still in the process of interpreting existing laws when it comes to social media. In fact, here in Canada there have already been a number of court cases, each with different circumstances and outcomes surrounding the interpretation of laws applied to social media. Issues that can arise when social media guidelines aren’t clear are: miscommunication, violation of CASL laws, client/employee confidentiality breaches, labour issues and brand or reputational troubles.

Having a social media guideline in place will:

Help educate employees

Unless you use social media professionally, you may not be aware of the consequences of using it. Keep in mind that your employees can range in age from teenagers to seasoned professionals; they have different world and work experience and varying educational backgrounds. You cannot expect your employees to understand the ever-changing digital landscape without educating them. Make sure they understand that what they post online, stays online and that they’re responsible for what they say & do.

Create dialogue around social media

The reality is that employees can be nervous to bring up concerns on their own. By having a social media guideline and holding sessions to explain it, you encourage employees to speak up in a safe environment.

Outline expectations & consequences

It’s unrealistic to assume that everyone will have the same understanding of what’s appropriate online behaviour vs. what isn’t. As a company, you must be clear as to what expectations you have; what your company will tolerate online and where you draw the line.

Protect your organizations reputation

By setting the tone, your employees know what’s at stake when comments are made online. It isn’t just about being reprimanded; it’s also about financial and reputational damage to the company. For example: in 2014, Chip Wilson (founder of Lululemon) made a controversial comment online that not only alienated the Lululemon clientele but also caused the stock price to dip down (so to add insult to injury, he lost money along with being forced out of his position.)

Raise awareness around your business brand & strategy

Most employees are focused on their area of work and may not be aware of the overall company mission. This is a chance to share business goals & direction. And if your company already uses social media, discuss how you use it, why you use it and how it fits in with employees (potential brand ambassadors) and your company’s mission.

Opportunity to enforce other company policies

Offers an occasion to repeat IT policies (for security), confidentiality policies (legal security) or safety policies. And any other policy your company may have in place.

Finally, in addition to all of the above, you should also discuss what’s appropriate online behaviour at work and at home.

The commentary on the blab today was fantastic. Having people play the role of Devils’ Advocate allows me to consider varying perspectives. One comment was: “If I’m not being paid, then I should be able to express myself however I choose.”
And in an ideal world, what you post online after hours should be your business but that’s just not reality.

As Ryan emphasized, employees are an extension of your company brand. And for good or bad, they represent their company outside of the office as much as they do inside of it. In our very social world, everything is captured and when an employee does something unsavory off the clock, they’re still treated as though they’re a direct representative of the company whether fair or not.

And what about Freedom of Speech?

Look, I believe in Freedom of Speech too, but some people don’t understand what it actually means within the law. Freedom of Speech as we know it in our Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms has restrictions. It limits hate speech and defamation and whether you’re at home or at work, you can be held accountable for your social media posts that fall in those categories. (So it’s not necessarily a good defense if you wind up in court.)

By putting a social media guideline in place, you’re letting people know where your company clearly draws a line in the sand; employees can choose to accept or ignore it.

Want to thank Ryan Perez for jumping in on the blab today (great to have another Calgarian participate!) Second, thanks to everyone who added great commentary and finally, thank you to anyone else who tuned in.

1 Comment

  1. […] consider putting a Social Media Guideline in place, as well as offering employees Social Media Orientation Training.  The guideline will include a variety of information, like collection of data on workplace […]