Social media blurs the lines between personal and professional. To ensure that employers adequately communicate expectations of employee behaviour online, you must start with a social media guideline.
Whether you’re private or public, government or corporate, not-for-profit, big or small – having a social media guideline is a must. Here in Canada there have already been a number of court cases, each with different circumstances and outcomes surrounding the interpretation of laws as applied to social media. Avoid embarrassing situations like violation of CASL and laws like defamation, client and employee confidentiality breaches, labour issues and brand or reputation issues. All of these can have an impact on your organizations reputation and bottom line.
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 they’re accountable for what they post online; what the post can live online forever.
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.)
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.
Discuss 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. Employees are an extension of your company brand. And for good or bad, they represent the company outside of the office as much as they do inside. 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 that’s fair or not.)
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. This is an important piece of brand ambassadors and company advocacy. Employees have an extended network; if they know, understand and are invested in the success of the company, they can amplify the company’s reach.
And what about Freedom of Speech?
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.
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