Social media has blurred the lines between our personal and professional lives. On a recent episode of Grown-ish, Zoey Johnson lost out on a job opportunity after one of her social media posts went viral. And last fall, ESPN’s Jemele Hill was suspended for two weeks after a misinterpreted tweet caused a stir. This incident caused ESPN to update its social media policy soon thereafter.
The intersection between work and social media play is causing problems for both employee and employer alike. To that end, even the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has published guidance around social media and employment. Whether you work for someone or someone works for you, a social media policy is very necessary these days. At a minimum, here are some things your social media policy should include.
1. Specificity about expected behaviors. On that episode of Grown-ish, Zoey’s boss confronted her about her active social media presence and simply told her “don’t embarrass me.” That social media directive from her boss was ridiculously vague. Your social media policy should be crystal clear about what is allowed and what is not, such as whether employees can use social media while at work; or whether employees can disclose their employment on their personal social media profiles.
2. Who is covered by the policy. A social media policy should spell out who is and isn’t covered. For example, does the policy apply to employees, interns, and independent contractors alike? Does it apply to social media use on Facebook only or on all forms of social media? And it should not assume that everyone understands social media. There might be some non-tech savvy people who would be impacted by this policy, so a social media policy should be easy for all audiences to understand.
3. How the policy will be enforced. Will a fairy god-follower monitor people’s posts? Does the policy apply only when you’re at work, or do off the clock tweets count against you? Will social media training be implemented as part of the company’s orientation and continued training throughout the year?
Some other considerations for a social media policy are tone of voice, privacy and confidentiality, and guidelines for responding to negative comments. A social media policy should reflect the type of company. If it’s a tech start up, the social media policy doesn’t have to sound super serious like that of a traditional financial company. And it should outline what kind of information can and cannot be shared on social media, while being mindful not to run afoul of NLRB guidance regarding employee rights, or Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules regarding unfair and deceptive business practices towards consumers. And lastly, since the internet trolls are everywhere, a social media policy should include an action plan for how best to respond to negative feedback online.
A social media policy is what you make it, and one size does not fit all. Social media continues to change often, and your policy needs to keep up with the regulations and guidelines. If you haven’t reviewed your social media policy in the last year, or you don’t have one at all, it’s time for a checkup.
Bianca Gay is a lawyer at the Law Office of Bianca Gay. She also co-hosts the Legal(ish) Podcast, a biweekly show about the law and its intersection in pop culture, politics, and everything in between. Feel free to reach out to her on Twitter, Instagram, or Linkedin.