This article is written by Saakshi Khandelwal, pursuing Certificate Course in Introduction to Legal Drafting: Contracts, Petitions, Opinions & Articles from LawSikho. The article has been edited by Smriti Katiyar (Associate, LawSikho).
Social media is omnipresent, even the slightest or the tiniest thing you can think of is already affected or getting affected by it. Big firms and organizations have many stakeholders and even the tiniest act or an omission can land each of them in a big predicament. A company’s image can either shine bright or be tarnished by a simple post or a review. It can either lead the prices of the stocks to touch the skies or make a corporation go bankrupt. The consequences might be extreme.
The employees are the real face of a company or an organization. They represent the company to the market or the world as a whole. In today’s world, everyone is active on social media and we like to post or comment about the place where we are working. Therefore, it becomes extremely important to regularize the conduct of employees as well as the organization online. This is done through social media policy.
This article is aimed at understanding what is a social media policy, what is the need for having an effective social media policy, important clauses that should form part of your social media policy along some important case laws.
What is a social media policy?
A social media policy is a set of guidelines or do’s and don’ts that describes how an employee or an organization should conduct themselves online. A best social media policy should work twofold; It should protect the company’s reputation and secondly, encourage the employees to advocate for the company on the web. To maintain public confidence and trust in a company/organization it is expected that employees adhere to the social media policy of the company and act inconsistently with the company’s values which includes but is not limited to respecting the law of land, respect for different communities and persons, work ethics, accountability, and transparency.
Need for having a social media policy
Be it small or big, all businesses and various bigger organizations like Adidas, FedEx, Coca-Cola, GM, etc. have their own social media policy. These policies form guidelines for the people working under that organization that manages their conduct on various social media accounts, professional or personal. But why do these firms need a social media policy?
- It helps manage risks- A company undertakes various kinds of risks, however, some risks can be really dangerous. For example; a bad review by an employee on the web about the company can influence the public and can affect its sales or services. Subsequently, it becomes important to manage such risks by clearly mentioning what is or is not acceptable online and avoiding confusion and expectations.
- It builds public trust– This policy can help companies maintain consistency of brand voice, tone, and messaging across various social media platforms. As a result, it instills confidence in the public and helps win their trust.
- It helps companies to combat various crises- A well-made and well-structured social media policy can save the day. Since it sets out do’s and don’ts, this will not only help the company to manage its PR crisis due to a potentially offensive post but also any kind of legal and regulatory issues and prevent damage to the company’s reputation.
- It encourages employees to work efficiently– A social media policy encourages employees to use their creativity while posting something about the company online. It gives them a sense of responsibility that their actions are responsible for the company’s reputation and consequently, they work efficiently. However, their actions must always align with the policy.
- Employees are assets to the company- An employee’s network is more trusted than the official networks of the company. So if an employee posts anything about the company, it will gain more attention. Through a well-drafted social media policy, employees can be empowered to become advocates of the company and can create a positive and valuable brand message across the Internet. This can be also done by providing adequate social media training to the employees.
In the year 2015, Apple added a new set of emojis which also included changing the colour of the human emojis to better represent human diversity. However, Clorox, a bleach company, missed the update. The Twitter account of Clorox tweeted a picture of a bottle which was a mosaic consisting of many emojis and captioned it as “New emojis are all right but where’s the bleach”. The emojis used in the bottle was only in white despite the update. In its tweet, Clorox seemed to be commenting on why bleach was not included among the hundreds of emojis that Apple had added to its list of emojis. However, the tweet was taken by storm by users as it was considered racist. As a result of which the company received a huge backlash from the users. Eventually, they had to delete the post and issue an apology.
This incident explains the need of having a social media policy in place. It is important to regulate the content that is being posted on the social media accounts of the company and protect brand reputation.
Important clauses that should be incorporated in a social media policy
A social media policy should strike a balance between do’s and don’ts. It must take into consideration that the policy shouldn’t be gruesome and filled with jargon which makes it all the more difficult to interpret. It should reflect the dynamic workplace where social media is in every nook and cranny. The policy is usually at rescue during crises and therefore, it must be in simple words and comprehensible.
It can be inferred that social media policy plays a significant role in building a company’s reputation. Therefore, it must be drafted carefully and include all the important clauses. Below is the list of some important clauses which ought to find a place in the policy.
Representatives of the company/organization
A company usually has a dedicated team of members whose primary work involves dealing with social media which includes the PR team, social media team, or even marketing team. These people are the official spokesperson of the company who has been authorized to post or speak on behalf of the company. Their roles should be laid down clearly which will include daily postings and engagements, advertising, customer care services/inquiries, crisis management, security risks associated with social media platforms, passwords, code of conduct, etc.
On the other hand, there are other employees of the company. These employees are the company’s regular employees whose work caters to everything else but being the company’s official spokesperson. The social media policy should mention all things that these employees are allowed/not allowed to post, comment or share and take responsibility for posts uploaded by them.
For example; the social media guidelines of Adidas group state, “Do not comment on work-related legal matters unless you are an official spokesperson, and have the legal approval by the Adidas Group or its brands to do so. In addition, talking about revenues, future products, pricing decisions, unannounced financial results or similar matters will get you, the company, or both into serious trouble.”
After laying down the roles of each team, it is important to get into details as to what will be the acceptable code of conduct of employees. This section mentions what is an acceptable code of conduct and also mentions what and which type of content can be posted on the various social media platforms of both employees and the company.
- Honesty and transparency- Employees should always be honest while posting anything online. He should specifically mention in what capacity he is associated with the company. The employee should mention if he is not the company’s official spokesperson and is speaking for himself and not for the company. Even the slightest remark can affect the company’s reputation.
- Be responsible- An employee should be responsible for his actions. If he/she commits any mistake, then he/she should be the first person to acknowledge that. Moreover, if any employee sees anything which is a clear violation of rules and regulations, it is their responsibility to report the same to the appropriate authority. In addition to this, an employee should avoid commenting on political news or information.
- Be respectful- Each employee should respect the work of other employees. It is unnecessary to speak or comment on anything disrespectful about other employees and should be avoided in all circumstances. Above all, respect the audience and don’t use casteist slurs, public insults, defamatory statements, or engage in any argument. Eventually, any kind of hate speech can derogate the company’s image.
- Maintain privacy- Respect the privacy of fellow employees, managers, customers, partners, top-level management, supervisors, etc. No employee should be allowed to post any personal information without the permission of the person concerned.
- Use sound judgment before posting- Don’t post anything or everything which comes to your mind. Use common sense and sound judgment and review while posting anything which is required. The employees should avoid any kind of online spats and approach someone who officially handles these. Once anything is uploaded on the Internet, it can’t be deleted or vanished permanently by any means. So, be mindful that the actions of employees directly or indirectly have an impact on the company’s reputation.
Swiggy and Zomato are well reputed online food ordering platforms. Their online marketing strategy is extremely attractive and remarkable. They usually keep posting really attractive posts or phrases and enticing food images on their social media platforms or messages to attract people. They know exactly what to post and how to make consumers order food from their app. All such things keep the people hooked up to their pages and increase their engagement rates. This is because these platforms have a well-defined social media policy that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of employees.
This is one of the most important clauses of social media policy. Every company has its trade secrets or any kind of confidential information regarding internal management. Even the official spokespersons should not reveal any non-public information about the company on online platforms. This type of information can be protected through signing a non-disclosure agreement or any other contract. To create deterrence, violation of this clause can attract penalties like suspension or termination.
For example, the social media policy of GM mentions, “Keep confidential information to yourself-You should never reveal non-public company information on social media. Treat all confidential information and trade secrets of our company, of our partners and suppliers, as strictly confidential.”
Strict compliance with laws and regulations
Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Everyone is supposed to know the law of land. The organization, as well as the employees, are expected to follow trademark, copyright or intellectual property rights. Make sure that employees don’t copy the work of other organizations without their consent and give due credits if required. In addition to this, it is important to adhere to the social media laws and other laws that are in existence, and violations of them can even result in lawsuits.
This can be seen in the Adidas Social Media guidelines which state, “Please respect copyright. If it is not yours, don’t use it. It is very simple. It is that person’s choice to share his or her material with the world, not yours. Before posting someone else’s work, please check with the owner first.”
Reporting of negative activities
There is the possibility that the employees may engage themselves in any kind of negative activities like hacking, disrupting or destroying the forums or platforms, misbehaving online with fellow employees or customers, violating the company’s policies, posting anything defamatory, harassing, and pornographic, or anything which can create a hostile work environment.
These kinds of activities can affect the company’s reputation and must be stopped at the earliest. Therefore, a social media policy should also have a clause wherein it should be the duty of each employee to report such activities to the concerned authorities so that appropriate action can be taken.
Increasing employees participation
Every employee is an asset to an organization. Therefore, it becomes significant to involve him/her in working for the organization. This clause should mention how an employee can actively participate in enhancing a company’s reputation without affecting their productivity.
It is important to take into account that employees’ networks are far more engaging and valuable than the company’s official network. Employees must be encouraged to post about their work ethics, environment, how the management supports them, perks of being part of that company, or anything which can bring value to the company. This participation will give twofold benefits, firstly, it will help employees to develop their network and brand and it will help the company to reach the best talent, increase sales productivity and build a huge network. Moreover, the company should also recognize that staff may wish to use social media in their personal life. But while using their handles, employees should not comment on the company’s policies and related matters which could be potential damage to the company.
However, not everything should be posted online and subjected to restrictions as mentioned in the social media policy. The employee should mention that the views are his/her personal views and avoid any private communication through official mails.
Sanctions in case of breach
Your social media policy apart from the above clauses should also specifically mention the disciplinary sanctions that can be brought against the employees in case of any breach of the provisions of the policy. These actions act as deterrence to prevent any kind of acts/omission that can tarnish the company’s image. Some of the sanctions can be termination of services, suspension, taking the control of the delinquent employee’s account, warning, and deletion of the post along with deduction in salary, prosecution or any other sanction that deems reasonable. It is important to note that the employer should provide genuine reasons for such action to the employee in order to justify the sanction so imposed.
These are some important clauses that should be incorporated into the social media policy. However, a company or an organization may include, add or modify these clauses depending on the working of the company.
Significant case laws
Whitham v. Club 23 Ltd. t/a Ventura
This is a case wherein the employment tribunal highlights the problems that Facebook usage can cause for both the employers as well as employees. In this case, Mrs Whiteman was initially terminated from her services because she posted something which was considered “unacceptable” and allegedly harmed the respondent’s relationship with Volkswagen and breached confidentiality. However, when the matter went to the employment tribunal it was found that the investigation was not conducted in a fair manner and therefore, termination cannot be done.
Plant v. API Microelectronics
Herein, Mrs Plant was employed by API Microelectronics Ltd for 17 years and had a clean disciplinary record. However, she was terminated for her inappropriate and derogatory statements on her Facebook post. As a result of which she breached the social media policy of the company. The employment tribunal found her dismissal fair. This case clearly emphasizes the importance of having a social media policy that gives guidance on the use of social media and sanctions for breach. Moreover, it is the duty of the employers to ensure that the employees are well aware of these policies.
Ellis v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon Corp.
In this case, the plaintiff was an employee at the respondent Bank. She was terminated from her services owing to a post she had uploaded on her Facebook account. She was found to have violated the Bank’s Code of Conduct and its social media policy.
These are a few cases that emphasize the need of having an effective social media policy in place. No company should suffer due to the acts or omissions of its employees due to any social media post.
The main objective of every employee should be to add a valuable contribution to its company. The employees represent the company in different areas and carry its repute wherever they go, be it, physically or on social media platforms. The role of a social media policy can’t be stressed enough. It is usually seen where there are crises, therefore it should be easy and quick to understand. Before it is officially launched it should be reviewed by various stakeholders and modified according to feedback. Most importantly it should be updated and reviewed timely due to the ever-changing market or industry trends. A social media policy should be instrumental in the growth of the business.
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