From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, and now to Threads, your shop’s social media footprint just keeps growing. As it does, it’s the perfect time to review your social media policies.
Social media is a great tool to reach prospective customers as well as current clients, and it provides a method in which to reach larger and larger audiences. But like with all tools, there are potential challenges in operating your shop’s social media profile, and it’ll only work right if used correctly.
And as social media becomes a more and more widely used tool that’s less and less avoidable, it’s important to establish social media policies for your business, not only to provide a guide to your staff but also to protect them, your business and your customers.
One reason to implement a social media policy is to provide clarity as to what is and isn’t acceptable social media use. Establishing clear guidelines and expectations for employee social media posts can help prevent issues “such as inappropriate postings, disclosure of financial information and negative comments about the company,” Michael Callahan, a managing partner at The Callahan Law Firm, told FenderBender via email.
A clear policy provides a framework of acceptable social media posts on personal, as well as business-operated accounts, outlining what are and aren’t appropriate ways for the company to be represented.
Callahan also says that the policy can create a structure for solving any potential conflicts. The policy can include repercussions should its guidelines not be adhered to.
Protecting the business
If and when the time comes that the policy isn’t adhered to and an employee makes an inappropriate social media post in some form or another, having the policy can be helpful in protecting your business, according to Peter Cassat, a partner at Culhane Meadows.
Cassat uses defamation as an example. Say your employee badmouths a cross-town competitor over social media, saying they do a poor job of fixing a certain type of vehicle. Cassat says that could legally be attributed to the company, and could result in a lawsuit.
“But it’s nice to have that policy in place and say, ‘No, we don’t let people do that. That was against our policy,’” Cassat says. “So, when you try and take the position that it was a rogue action by an employee, you can say with some certainty that it wasn’t authorized.”
The policy could also be useful in terms of advertising. Should an employee make an inaccurate post about pricing without acknowledging the social media policy, it can provide a similar fallback.
In addition to protecting the business, a well-written social media policy can also help ensure protections for employee and customer privacy.
“It can limit the dissemination of sensitive data, ensure conformance with data protection laws and prevent the unauthorized use of customer or employee images or personal information,” Callahan wrote.
Cassat notes that company policy should already outline protections for employee and customer privacy and that a social media policy shouldn’t be a replacement for other important company policies. But adding a social media policy to existing privacy policies adds another layer of protection.
As you decide to set up a social media policy at your shop, both Callahan and Cassat say that the process should start with a period of evaluation. Callahan says you should take a look at the needs and potential threats as how they relate to your company’s size, culture and operations.
A social media policy would be an addition to existing company policies. As such, Cassat says you need to evaluate how it will fit in with those policies.
“Perhaps you already have policies that cover this, it can just be extended to social media,” Cassat says.
Cassat also mentions that, depending on need, extending policies to encompass social media may be a better fit than establishing a new policy.
“I think a comprehensive kind of communications policy that encompasses social media might be the better way to go,” Cassat says, also noting that a policy shouldn’t be overly prescriptive, especially if that makes it unrealistic to enforce.
“A good handbook/communications policies (are) a great starting point, and then companies should think about more whether there’s other holes they need to plug,” he says.
After evaluating your company’s needs and how a new policy might fit into other company policies, both Callahan and Cassat note the importance of seeking legal guidance when writing the policy. An employment law attorney can ensure the policy applies to applicable laws and regulations, and that it doesn’t violate employee rights.
And it’s important to continue to review the policy as the landscape of social media is everchanging. Cassat says it could be helpful to write the policy more broadly in a way that could apply generally to new platforms and technologies. Still, he recommends continually evaluating all company policies.
“That’s the beauty of writing in a more general way because the more specific you are, the more it becomes outdated quickly,” Cassat says.
So, as the landscape continues to evolve and the next Threads rolls out, your company will be ready.