The following sample policy was excerpted from The Book of Company Policies, published by HR Specialist. Edit for your organization's purposes
“Social media (including personal and professional websites, blogs, chat rooms and bulletin boards; social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; video-sharing sites such as YouTube; and e-mail) are a common means of communication and self-expression. Because online postings can conflict with the interests of ________________ [Company] and its customers, the Company has adopted the following policy. Breach of this policy may result in counseling and disciplinary action, including termination of employment.
Confidentiality and Privacy
“Do not disclose the Company’s confidential or proprietary information, or personal identifying information of anyone at the Company, in online postings or publications. Sharing these types of information, even unintentionally, could result in harm to the Company and legal action against you or the Company.
Your Identity Online
- "You are personally liable for all communications and information you publish online. The Company may be liable for online activity that uses company assets, a company e-mail address or any e-mail address that can be traced back to the Company’s domain, which generally is any internet address affiliated with the Company. Using your name and a Company e-mail address may imply that you are acting on the Company’s behalf. Because social media and networking activities are public, your Company e-mail address and Company assets should be used only to perform job-related activities, which may include professional networking but do not include personal social networking.
- Outside the workplace, you have a right to participate in social media and networks using your personal e-mail address. However, information and communications that you publish on personal online sites should never be attributed to the Company or appear to be endorsed by, or to have originated from, the Company.
- If you choose to disclose your affiliation with the Company in an online communication, then you must treat all communications associated with the disclosure as professional communications governed by this and other Company policies.
Limitations on Online Publications
- "Never identify a customer or co-worker in an online posting without his or her prior written permission.
- Obey the law and ethics rules. Do not post any information or engage in any online activity that violates applicable local, state or federal laws, or professional rules of conduct.
- Identify all copyrighted or borrowed material with citations and links. When publishing direct or paraphrased quotes, thoughts, ideas, photos or videos, give credit to the original publisher or author.
- Direct all requests for references for current or former Company employees to the Human Resources Department. Comments you post about current and former employees can have legal consequences, even if you make the comments personally and not on the Company’s behalf.
Creating and Managing Content
- "The _____________ Department must approve any website, blog, chat room, video-sharing site, bulletin board or other social media that promotes the Company. No employee may incorporate the Company’s logo or other intellectual property in a website, blog, chat room, video-sharing site, bulletin board or other social media without the Company’s written permission.
- If you maintain a website, blog, chat room, video-sharing site, bulletin board or other social media that promotes the Company, you are responsible for reviewing responses to online posts and resolving any concerns about the propriety of the responses before they are posted.
- If a blogger or any other online participant posts an inaccurate, accusatory or negative comment about the Company or any of its employees, do not respond to the post without the approval of the _____________ Department.
- Refrain from publishing comments about controversial or potentially inflammatory subjects, including politics, sex, religion or any other non-business related subjects in any posts or other online communications involving the Company.
- Avoid hostile or harassing communications in any posts or other online communications involving the Company. Harassment is any offensive conduct based on a person’s race, sex, gender, gender identity, national origin, color, disability, age, sexual orientation, veteran status, marital status, religion or any other status protected by law.
“Nothing in this policy is intended to or will be applied in a manner that limits employees’ rights to engage in protected concerted activity as prescribed by the National Labor Relations Act.”
—Courtesy of the law firm McGuireWoods, LLP
How to Draft a Social Media Company Policy: 7 Questions to Ask
Whether they’re shooting off their own tweets or following others, employees using Twitter are creating liability and PR risks with their 140-character rants, raves and company gossip.
Example: A high-profile public relations executive landed in Memphis and promptly posted on his Twitter account, “I would die if I had to live here.” The problem: Memphis is home to FedEx, one of the PR exec’s largest clients. Oops. Needless to say, FedEx reps were not amused.
The trend isn’t confined to Twitter, Facebook or other social media tools. Any kind of blog or video can spread your employees’ “youthful indiscretions” around the world in seconds.
Example 2: When two employees at a North Carolina Domino’s pizza delivery store were bored one evening, one filmed the other sticking a piece of cheese up his nose and then placing it on a sandwich soon to be delivered to a customer. They posted the video on YouTube. More than half a million hits later, Domino’s had a viral gross-out PR nightmare on its hands and the health department at its doorstep.
In an ideal world, both of these incidents would be covered by a policy reading, “For gosh sakes, people, use your heads!” But behavior is easier to legislate than common sense, which means crafting policies that rein in how employees may use technology on the job.
Crafting the policy
A perfect social networking policy to cover these new media could be drafted using only a few words: “Be mature, be ethical, and think before you type.” Ultimately, you may decide that such brevity is what you want for you business. For the sake of completeness, though, here are the seven most important questions to ask yourself when drafting a social networking policy.
1. How far do you want to reach? Social networking presents two concerns for employers—how employees are spending their time at work, and how employees are portraying your company online when they are not at work. Any social networking policy must address both types of online use.
2. Do you want to permit social networking at work, at all? It is not realistic to ban all social networking at work. For one thing, you will lose the benefit of business-related networking. Further, a blanket ban is also hard to monitor and enforce.
3. If you prohibit social networking, how will you monitor it? Turning off Internet access, installing software to block certain sites or monitoring employees’ use and disciplining offenders are all possibilities, depending on how aggressive you want to be and how much time you want to spend watching what your employees do online.
4. If you permit employees to social network at work, do you want to limit it to work-related conduct, or permit limited personal use? How you answer this question depends on how you balance productivity versus marketing return.
5. Do you want employees to identify with your business when networking online? Employees should be made aware that if they post as an employee of your company, the company will hold them responsible for any negative portrayals. Or, you could simply require that employees not affiliate with your business and lose the networking and marketing potential Web 2.0 offers.
6. How do you define “appropriate business behavior?” Employees need to understand that what they post online is public, and they have no privacy rights in what they put out for the world to see. Anything in cyberspace can be used as grounds to discipline an employee, no matter whether the employee wrote it from work or outside of work.
7. How will social networking intersect with your broader harassment, technology and confidentiality policies? Employment policies do not work in a vacuum. Employees’ online presence—depending on what they are posting—can violate any number of other corporate policies. Drafting a social networking policy is an excellent opportunity to revisit, update and fine-tune other policies.
Contributor: Jon Hyman, a partner with Kohrman Jackson & Krantz PLL, a Cleveland-based law firm, and editor of the Ohio Employment Law newsletter. Contact: email@example.com.