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Develop a Social Media Policy

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In the midst of the 2012 U.S. presidential election, with tensions rising one month before election day, home appliance maker KitchenAid’s social media manager posted this controversial tweet:

“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! 'She died 3 days b4 he became president'. #nbcpolitics”

The fallout wasn’t pretty—with thousands of followers, an entire international company’s reputation was hurt by a single employee. While an extreme example, Keith Yurgosky says this highlights an important lesson for any business, big or small, that can’t afford to alienate customers: Developing a social media policy can help resolve such a situation swiftly.

Or, better yet, prevent it from happening in the first place.

As manager of Internet business at the University of Scranton Small Business Development Center, Yurgosky has helped hundreds of small businesses design social media policies regulating how companies and their employees use their social media accounts.

 

A social media policy should be written out and signed by employees. Because it’s an HR issue, there needs to be documentation of what the policy is, and what the punishments are for breaking the rules. Put it in an employee handbook the employee signs. Include what you consider confidential information that shouldn’t be shared. I’d recommend offering one or two warnings for issues that aren’t too detrimental to the business. If it’s severe, there’s probably no choice but to cut ties.

Larger companies will fire people over their social media posts—you probably won’t have to deal with that as a smaller company. But if someone does violate the policy, having those regulations in place protects you legally and allows you to sit them down and say, You broke this rule. You now have a warning.

You also need to be aware of any state laws. It’s case by case. In Pennsylvania, you can fire anyone for anything you want. However, the U.S. National Labor Relations Act ruled against employers for firing employees for complaining on social media sites about their workplace conditions. So, just know your limits.

 

Most of the businesses we deal with are mom-and-pop shops. Typically, it’ll either be themselves doing social media, or they’ll have an intern or someone else doing it. 

If anyone else has access to your accounts, define roles for everyone. Who is responsible for what? What do these responsibilities include? Address the intention of social media and how you want to be branded. 

Also, make sure they understand they’re representing the business. They’re not representing themselves, so they need to keep their opinions out of it. Identify the kind of information they can put out so you don’t log in to Facebook and find your shop has posted about something that could be controversial.

 If anyone has access to your account and then they leave the company, you have to make sure you change all your passwords and log-ins so they don’t continue to post on behalf of the company—especially if it’s an employee who leaves in a bad situation.

 

Employees’ personal accounts can end up doing a lot of damage to a business. So any time that they do say something that’s their opinion, and it pertains to your industry or your place of work, make sure you say that it’s their opinion and not the opinion of the company. It doesn’t need to be said for every post that person makes—it should just be disclosed in the employee’s profile bio.

You’ll also want to make notes about posting on social media during work hours. You can either flat-out restrict it unless they’re on lunch, or you can be a little looser. One software company I know instituted Facebook Friday, when employees were allowed to talk about the company and promote it.

 

If you run into trouble and create controversy, you have to address it and apologize. You’re a small business, so you can’t alienate your core base. That’s not the way we feel. Issue an apology on the account, and then point them in the direction of an email or phone number so you can explain your policy to people and say, We will hear you out and settle any issues you may have. That way, hopefully, it doesn't result in a negative review or anything like that.

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