Developing a workplace social media policy

About the author

Richard Bailey Hon FCIPR is editor of PR Academy's PR Place Insights. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.

This is a summary of a breakfast presentation in which Fiona Mason and Chloe Perreira of business services group Outset UK made the case for a workplace social media policy.

‘There will come a time when our workforce is made of the younger ‘digital native’ generation who cannot remember a time before the Internet. Surely they will expect to be able to communicate in this way? Should employers embrace and encourage this?’

Some employers may automatically assume that social media equals low productivity – but isn’t overuse at work of social media more a symptom rather than the root cause of the problem?

Ignoring cases where some individuals become addicted to the use of social media (it’s not medically recognised, yet, but surely it’s just a matter of time?), it’s more the case that skills deficit/lack of morale/low commitment to the job result in poor performance.

If it wasn’t social media, it would be something else – remember the days when a slacking employee could be found playing Solitaire on their PC?

Don’t risk being an employer stuck in the past. No one likes change, but further progress into the age of social media is inevitable.

Having a good social media policy in place is a key part of embracing this new era of social media immersed employees, whilst minimising risk and protecting your business.

What follows are some general dos and don’ts for employers to consider.

Your organisation’s social media policy will be specific to the sector you are in, the culture of your organisation and how you wish to manage your people. This is something that Outset could help develop for your organisation.

Social media Dos

  • Do think carefully before carrying out social media research on prospective and current employees. There could be privacy issues, and you’d be surprised about what the Courts think is reasonable action to take if you do discover something you’re not too impressed with.
  • Do have an up to date policy in place governing the use of social media at work which sets clear parameters for what is and isn’t acceptable.
  • Do consider including a social media element in your induction, to ensure people understand the parameters relating to your business. Use this to broaden their knowledge around privacy settings and how this may be impactful at work.
  • Do ensure that where staff use social media as part of their role to represent the business, they are provided with written company guidelines which provides clear guidance on the appropriate content and tone they should adopt.
  • Do consider the benefits social media can bring to your business. It has a significant place in modern society and can reap rewards in recruitment and positive employee engagement. Consider how you can develop your learning strategy to incorporate social media. There is a plethora of free learning out there and by curating this you can create a relevant, accessible and unique approach to development. Leverage the demographics in your firm. Create awareness and opportunity between the generations by mixing social media savvy groups with more experienced long servers who have specialist and company knowledge – you might be surprised at what they can create together….
  • Do make sure that any conduct you are not prepared to accept in relation to social media is mentioned in your disciplinary policy as an example of misconduct or gross misconduct (as appropriate)

Social media Don’ts

  • Don’t ignore the issue. It is inevitable that our future workforce will one day be 100% formed of people who did not know a time before the internet! Social media and communicating online is a way of life for a large % of people already – there is no avoiding it.
  • Don’t assume that because an employee has posted something less than desirable online, you are entitled to dismiss them. Even if it refers to their employer, there are a lot of factors to consider and dismissal won’t always be fair.
  • Don’t be tempted to impose an all-out ban on social media/internet use at work. This is unlikely to be popular, will not reduce all possible social media risks and will inevitably mean the business misses out on the benefits social media can bring. Restricting its non-business related use to break times is more realistic.
  • Don’t be scared, help is at hand!