Guidelines are an important part of managing an online presence. They define how employees should represent your business online, help ensure that your company meets regulatory requirements, and more. Guidelines are different than the legal requirements I shared in my post about legal considerations for blogging and email marketing. The laws applicable to your business determine some of the content of your guidelines. Determine the laws, review current and planned business activities, check industry requirements, and develop guidelines to help you and your company maintain your online presence. This post describes some aspects to consider when developing your guidelines.
There are several aspects on social media postings to consider. One is employees at work: how will they tweet or post somewhere on behalf of your company? The other, of course, is personal.
If an employee is tasked with managing social media accounts or your website, determine guidelines for the account. Also create guidelines for other employees in general: how should they mention the company in social media?
Personal posts are different but may still affect your company. For instance, what happens if an employee posts something outside of work that reflects on your business? That’s one type of situation to perhaps consider when developing your guidelines. What if someone disparages another employee or management, or shares confidential information? Topics such as those are good to address in your guidelines.
Ownership of Social Media Accounts
Over the years, I’ve seen a few situations that raise the very serious question: who owns a social media account? As everyone knows, it takes time to build an online presence. If one person does that, do they take the account if they leave the company? That’s been the subject of lawsuits in the past. Here are some examples. In both cases, problems ensued after an employee left a company. Who owned the account?
An employee built up a company Twitter account to 17,000 followers. With the company’s permission, he continued to use the account upon leaving the company. The company later sued the employee. Read this article to see the type of aspects to consider when establishing guidelines in your company:
This was the outcome:
LinkedIn: Eagle vs. Edcomm
Here’s a lawsuit regarding ownership of a LinkedIn account.
As I mentioned in my Legal Considerations for Blogging and Email Marketing post, there was a Disclosure Toolkit developed some years back that is now archived. It has a section with guidelines for agencies and consultants. I think this is another audience to address regarding guidelines. A company might need guidelines for both employees and any consultant they might hire. For your review, here’s a link to the toolkit. Bear in mind that it is archived, but perhaps it can provide some information and ideas about what to include for this audience.
Another potential trouble spot is asking applicants or employees for their passwords for their social media accounts. I’m including an example of an instance a few years back where job applicants were required to provide their passwords. The issues I see resulting from asking for passwords are these:
- Privacy for the person required to provide a password
- Privacy for friends or followers of the person required to provide a password
- Privacy for anyone who sent or received private messages on any platform
- With regard to Facebook pages which are connected to a person’s profile account, access to and information related to administration of any pages
As you can see, this type of request has many considerations. Here’s the example of the job applicant password request:
I assume that employers often review public social media postings of potential employees, but that is very different from asking for passwords. That’s one more topic to address in your guidelines: how do HR employees review social media accounts of potential hires?
Since that Montana issue, many states passed laws regarding access to social media accounts. Montana is on the list. As of 2015, here’s a list of states and what their laws address. If you’re developing guidelines, check your state laws to ensure that you would be in compliance.
State Laws Ban Access to Workers’ Social Media Accounts (2015; check for current laws in your area.)
Each industry has its own unique characteristics. Some may be subject to additional laws and regulations that would not apply to others. I think it’s worth the time spent to fully research whatever special requirements apply to your field or industry. Here’s an example of something I found that appears to be specific to the legal profession.
10 Tips for Avoiding Ethical Lapses When Using Social Media (specifically for the legal field, on the American Bar Association website)
I imagine that other professions such as physicians and other medical businesses would have unique requirements. Find out what applies to your industry and determine how to work that into your guidelines as appropriate.
Here are some additional articles and examples I found that might be of interest to you.
How to Craft a Social Media Policy for Your Small Business (Small Business Association)
Acting General Counsel releases report on employer social media policies (National Labor Relations Board 2012: seven examples of social media cases)
I’m not an attorney and am not providing legal advice. Research the issue, determine what your company needs, consider consulting with an attorney, and develop your guidelines!
For other tips in this series, see the following post.
For information about legal issues to consider, see this post: