Here are some highlights on emerging best practices in social media guidelines and policies, based on research we’re completing with several major Fortune 500 corporations and social media monitoring technology providers. The full report will be released next week, but here are some common elements among companies’ social media guidelines.
Commonalities among corporate social media guidelines
- Employees must follow existing company policies, e.g., code of conduct, privacy policies.
- Employees are responsible for their own views.
- If writing about the company, the employee must disclose his/her name and role at the company, and, again, reiterate the views are theirs, not the company’s.
- When expressing views not related to the company, the employee does not need to mention employment relationship.
- Guidelines on what information should never be discussed, e.g., financials.
- The requirement that hourly workers should not participate in work-related social media efforts when off the clock.
- The requirement that employees be truthful, respectful and professional.
- A disclaimer that even within the guidelines there remains a degree of risk for the employee.
- The need for tone and content of guidelines to be aligned with company’s values.
Policies vary on whether an employee should use a personal email address or company email address as their primary means of identification. Some think that since the views expressed are the employee’s, not the company’s, they should not be identified in any way with the company.
Others believe that employee participation in professionally-related social media conversations enhances the company’s reputation as people are able to “see” the knowledge, integrity, and helpfulness of employees, with their company email address. Emerging best practice companies say that the stronger an organization’s corporate values, the more comfortable a company should be with allowing employees to use company email addresses.
The more plainly and clearly the guidelines are written, the greater the likelihood that employees will read and understand them. The more “legalese” they become, the greater the chance that they will be ignored or misunderstood. Best Buy and Sun Microsystems’ guidelines are good examples of writing simply and clearly while covering pertinent legal issues.
Some companies are incorporating social media guidelines into employees’ Conduct of Conduct or Employee Agreements, which employees are required to review and sign every year.
Lastly, companies stress that they are at greater risk at NOT having social media guidelines in place for their employees, as employees are participating in blogs, communities, Twitter, etc. with or without a company policy in place. Better to educate and help employees understand both the risk and how to succeed than leave it up to chance.