Our team spends a lot of time writing and revising handbooks. Many of our clients come to us with no handbook in place or one that hasn’t been updated in several years. For this process we have a standard list of policies that should be in every handbook and then we have a few policies we ask the client to consider based on business, industry or culture.
One policy that usually generates conversation is the social media policy. Our clients usually find themselves in one of two schools of thoughts about social media. They either don’t care entirely and want no policy in place or they want to lock it all down and make sure employees are never on social media at work.
We prefer a policy somewhere in the middle couple with training on effective use.
The reality is employees are going to be on social media. You can lock your work computers down from accessing Facebook or Twitter, but you can’t lock down their personal devices. Social media, like taking a smoke break, has become a routine part of most people’s day and locking it down only make them find some other way to do it. At the same time, giving employee’s free reign, in some environments, can lead to lost productivity or situations where social media is used inappropriately creating larger issues for the company.
Further, as I’ve talked about many times on this blog, small businesses may need their employees to help spread the word about hiring or branding initiatives and locking the networks down only prohibits advertising that could help the company. Your best brand ambassadors are often your current employees and if their social networks are active, you want them talking about your company.
Our compromise is to create a policy that speaks to proper usage of social media. We point out that social media should not take the place of other work being done, but that when time permits we encourage employees to use social media and talk about the company (positively) when the situation allows. The policy highlights a few areas that the company wants their employees talking about; recruiting, fun employee events, big initiatives the company is working on. It also shares areas where social media is not the proper outlet; employee grievances, intellectual property, anything covered by a non-disclosure.
We encourage employers to go over this policy and add training tidbits during employee onboarding. Training employees on the proper use, what will and will not be tolerated can reap major benefits for companies wanting to allow for social connection, but mitigate the risk of that connection causing headaches.
Social media is not an area where an all or nothing approach is the only option. There is middle ground that can and should be found for both parties. Companies recruiting on social can’t expect those employees hired through social channels to live for a locked down social media policy.
Admittedly, I do have clients who still think social media is unnecessary, do not have a social presence as a company and therefore want a completely locked down policy. I can honestly say that in the last two years those companies are and few between and those who used to think this way are starting to change their mind as their marketing departments get more and more involved with social. For the companies still in the social media dark ages, I tell them a prohibitive policy is legal, but don’t expect employees to follow it. Also, expect it to be the first place employees go with grievances because chances are good the company without any presence won’t see it anyway right? It may be legal, but isn’t realistic.
Modeling the behavior you want to see on social, training employees on proper use and having a policy that protects you when things do turn negative is the approach we have seen work time and time again. Middle ground, in this instance, is the best place to be.