We live in a world where information can proliferate within seconds via the internet. Therefore, it is important to have clear social media guidelines in place to manage reputational risk to your business.
Of course, employees are entitled to a personal life, but technology and flexible working practices have changed the employer/employee paradigm so that the line between personal and professional life is often blurred. Additionally, there is an enormous gap between the generations as to what is thought to be acceptable use of social media. Bridging the gap between these differing expectations is a simple matter of creating and enforcing a social media policy.
Developing a clear policy which outlines expectations and describes unacceptable behaviour will protect both your employees’ right to a personal life and the reputation of your business and will stand you in good stead should a complaint be made about disciplinary action in the future.
Four Steps to a Strong Social Media Policy
1. Use Social Media
The best way to understand and monitor technology is to use it. Social media platforms are useful for promoting your brand, products and services, and are excellent tools for monitoring feedback and communicating directly with customers. Many businesses also use social media to assist with team-building between staff in different geographical locations.
Having clear goals in mind for what you want to achieve will help you to identify the platforms and time commitment that will achieve these goals.
2. Define Social Media
Consider all online activities when you are defining social media. Platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are included in most policies but do not forget forums, blogs, photo and video sharing sites like Instagram, and other sites that encourage networking between individuals. Your social media policy should adjust as new platforms or communication channels evolve.
3. Make A Social Media Policy
- Understand your legal obligations.
- Consider the risks which are particular to your business and how these should be addressed in your policy.
- Set guidelines to protect the way your staff and the community perceive your business, customers and competitors. Employees are your representatives, so it is important to frame your policy to reflect the ethics and overarching goals of your business.
- Define expectations, boundaries and conditions of use in relation to social media. This area of policy can be complicated and should cover dissemination of confidential information, bullying and harassment of other staff and inappropriate comments about the business, management, and if applicable, stakeholders.
- Include approval and publishing guidelines. Who manages your social media accounts and what are they allowed to say?
- State how social media may be used within working hours and the sites employees may access.
- Include examples, such as bragging about ‘faking a sickie’, or posting photos of oneself at the races/beach/shopping when one is supposedly sick. State whether these actions constitute misconduct.
- Set out the consequences of breaching the social media policy and processes for disciplinary action. It is usual to consider the severity of the behaviour and the actual audience. Employees should be made aware that remarks on social media that personally disparage an employer, the business or its stakeholders can cause damage to the business and as a result, may be grounds for termination.
- Give all new employees a copy of your social media policy to read and sign at induction.
4. Seek Professional Advice
You should seek legal advice to ensure that you:
- Understand your obligations under privacy, duty of care, copyright, competition and consumer law. For more click here
- Strike the appropriate balance when considering the privacy and freedom of speech of your employees.
- Set guidelines that are enforceable under current laws and appropriate for the size and nature of your business.
If at any time, you intend to terminate an employee based on misconduct, speak to a lawyer first to identify potential issues that could arise if a Fair Work complaint is lodged.
The concepts of developing appropriate social media policies and monitoring staff compliance are maturing and businesses must be vigilant, keep up to date with the evolving nature of online interactions and revisit social media policies regularly to make changes as required.
Case Study: In the case of Stutsel v Linfox Australia  FWA 8444, Mr Stutsel challenged his termination by Linfox Australia after he made derogatory comments about two of his managers on his Facebook page which he believed to be private. Linfox did not have a policy regarding Facebook use, other than a general direction that it should not be accessed during work time. The Commission found that his there was no valid reason for the termination of Mr Stutsel’s employment and that his dismissal was harsh, unjust and unreasonable. The Commission also commented that the lack of a social media policy was important and “In the current electronic age, this is not sufficient and many large companies have published detailed social media policies and taken pains to acquaint their employees with those policies. Linfox did not.” Most commentators agree that if there had been a social media policy which contained clear directions for employees as to expected standards of behaviour, the outcome in this case would have been different.