By: John Rossheim, Monster Senior Contributing Writer
By now, your company’s social media policy should be in place.
So it’s time to move forward and formulate you company’s next-generation social media policy and social media guidelines.
Why? Because in the 2010s, your company’s social media presence may become as critical to your enterprise as your web site was in the 2000s.
“Enabling employees to enhance brand goals in social media is very important for a lot of companies,” says Chris Boudreaux, senior vice president of New York-based Converseon, a social media agency. “Without social media, you won’t be competitive.”
Evolving your Social Media Policy
Your 2.0 social media policy won’t be a simple undertaking to articulate boundaries and expectations around your employees’ social media use.
As more and more company, customer and employee data move onto ever-shifting social media platforms, it is a rising challenge to protect online privacy while keeping information moving with minimum friction.
“Social media guidelines will require much more thought than what most companies have put in so far,” says Boudreaux, who has created a database of social media policies.
What are some of the key considerations for drafting your social media policy 2.0 in the Internet privacy environment of 2012? Here’s a run-down.
Matching the Medium to the Message
Begin by rationalizing your employees’ use of each social media platform: establish which communications channels are safe and appropriate for which kinds of data and talk.
“Companies have to decide which channels make sense for which types of communication,” says Boudreaux. “I would never ask someone to send me their Social Security number by Facebook message. And if someone tweets me, I’d rather pick up the phone and talk, because we’re going to get it done faster.”
Workers Must Not Let Down Their Regulatory Guard
Even licensed professionals need to be reminded not to get careless when they’re communicating about the company via social media, especially on devices like smartphones that encourage informality and have limited tools for protecting online privacy.
“Employees with public companies must operate within financial disclosure rules, for example,” says Gerry Corbett, CEO of the Public Relations Society of America. “There must be no selective disclosure via social media.”
Dual-Device Dilemma: Work and Personal Data on One Gadget
As employees mix work and personal data and social media at work on the full range of portable computing and communications devices, your social media policy will require substantial input from IT, legal and Internet privacy experts.
“There’s a tsunami coming, because the workforce is demanding access to their personal smartphones and tablets,” says Garry Mathiason, board chairman at Littler, Mendelson in San Francisco.
“Our first concern with dual use is that company data could escape corporate control and be stolen.”
Another issue: If a portable device with a mix of data is lost, the employer could be forced to do a remote wipe of the device’s storage, which will save corporate data from theft but may also destroy personal data, potentially creating liability.
It’s Illegal to Bar All Employee Discussion of Work
Although some companies will bristle at the notion, it is established labor law that employees can’t be entirely banned from talking about their employers, in social media as in any other media.
“Some employers have policies that say workers can’t talk about the company outside of work,” says Lance Haun, a blogger on HR issues. “Union organizers are looking to make an example of this.”
Still, workers’ statutory right to talk about their employers, jobs and workplaces does have its limits. “The NLRA [National Labor Relations Act] only protects employees to talk about wages, hours, benefits and other working conditions,” says Mathiason.
Think Strategically, Not Tactically
Instead of relying on the particulars of Internet privacy rules that can and frequently do change, it makes sense for companies to take a realistic perspective: Social media ultimately are designed for disseminating information (to friends and advertisers), not securing it.
“The way to stay ahead of the game is to make a single strategic decision, rather than reading the news and changing when Google does,” says Boudreaux. “Just don’t put anything on social media that you don’t want shared, even though this may frustrate younger workers.”
Training, and Finding a Middle Way
After you’ve laid down the rules, you need to invest in their implementation by giving employees training.
“Education is a huge part of this,” says Haun. “You can show people how to use social media, just as you would with any public-facing medium.”
In the end, your social media policy should be both strong and practical. “You need to drive down the center, strike a balance between restrictions and reasonable use,” says Mathiason.
One last thing: These issues in formulating a company social media policy and protecting Internet privacy are by no means an exhaustive list, and there are innumerable federal, state and local laws that may apply. So be sure to seek legal advice as you write or revise your company’s social media policy.
Legal Disclaimer: None of the information provided herein constitutes legal advice on behalf of Monster.