social media policy

What is a social media policy?

A social media policy is a corporate code of conduct that provides guidelines for employees who post content on the internet either as part of their job or as a private person. Social media policies are also called social networking policies. The goal of a social media policy is to set expectations for appropriate behavior and ensure that an employee's social media posts will not expose the company to legal problems or public embarrassment.

Company policies pertaining to social media often include directives for when employees should identify themselves as representatives of the company on a social networking platform, as well as rules for what types of information can be shared. Almost all social media policies include restrictions on disclosing confidential company information, proprietary business secrets and intellectual property, and, for public companies, anything that could influence stock prices.

Social media is an increasingly common way employees communicate and build professional networks. For example, Twitter is a popular social networking site that had 237.8 million registered, daily active users, according to its earnings report for the second quarter of 2022.

Companies often define social media as including forums, wikis, blogs and professional networking services, such as LinkedIn. These platforms usually have their own policies and rules for how users should behave on their sites. However, these policies often change. For instance, Twitter's rules for disciplinary action were changed after Elon Musk bought the platform for $44 billion in 2022.

Chart of popular social media sites
Social media is used by a large percentage of the global population.

Why you need a social media policy

The use of social media has changed the way professionals communicate in many positive ways. However, it has also increased companies' exposure to security and data breaches, regulatory penalties and public relations (PR) backlashes. Consequently, it's important that companies provide clear guidance on appropriate use of these platforms.

The key reasons a company needs a social media policy include the following:

  • Confidentiality. A clear social media policy can prevent employees from sharing confidential information, such as personnel changes, internal communications, financial data, company plans and clients' personally identifiable information. Sharing this information could harm a company's interests and competitive edge, as well as even lead to legal sanctions or penalties.
  • Brand reputation. While companies have their own social media accounts, many of their employees have personal and business ones as well. Those accounts can increase the reach of a company's brand A social media policy encourages employees to promote their company's brand on social platforms in appropriate ways, setting guidelines for what type of language employees can use and content they can post while representing their company. This can prevent employees from engaging in inappropriate behavior and minimize the risk of negative publicity.
  • Compliance. There are many state, national and financial reporting regulations that companies must comply with to avoid fines and other legal action. A good social media policy directs employees on what type of content and behavior to stay clear of so as not to violate those regulations.
  • Security. Security breaches, such as phishing, are common on social media, and a clear social media policy lays out strong security protocols to prevent such attacks. However, if a security breach does occur, a social media policy can also dictate how a company should respond.
  • Diversity and inclusion. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a growing set of policies and programs that promote diversity in the workplace. Social media policies are often responsible for assuring employees comply with DEI protocols, such as bans on cyberbullying and using appropriate language.

Social media policy applications

A social media policy may have different applications depending on the company or organization implementing it. A policy for an enterprise often applies to all employees, including executives in the C-suite, but not to partners and clients. Similarly, a university's social media policy often applies to staff and faculty but not to students.

In general, a social media policy applies to the following:

  • what company information an employee can share online;
  • how an employee can behave online as a representative of a company;
  • how to respond to a PR crisis or other issue on social media, such as a supply chain crisis; and
  • security protocols to protect and respond to security breaches.
Bar of tips for addressing supply chain crisis
Effective social media policies contain steps for addressing problems such as supply chain crises.

What to include in a social media policy

There are several important areas to include in an effective social media policy, including the following:

  • Social media definition. Companies should state the types of social media platforms their policy covers, including forums, blogs, social networking sites, wikis and communication apps, such as Facebook Messenger.
  • Roles and responsibilities. Many companies have official social media accounts; different groups or employees handle different aspects of running these accounts. This section of the social media policy should explain what departments are responsible for social media strategy, security, monitoring and training. It should specify who is responsible for posting on the official social media accounts, conducting social media marketing and advertising campaigns, and dealing with customer service It should also address whether employees not affiliated with the social media team are allowed to post and interact on social media.
  • Security. This section of the social media policy should cover security best practices, such as what company information can and can't be shared and what should be done in case of a security breach. Other security protocols should include how often social media account passwords should be changed, what devices can use official company accounts and whether personal use of social media accounts is allowed on the company network.
  • Crisis management plan. This part of the policy includes emergency resources and a proactive plan in case a company must respond to a social media PR crisis, such as responding to customer complaints during supply chain crises, which were particularly prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. This often includes a list of emergency contacts, protocols for addressing the crisis and an approval process for crafting and posting a response.
  • Legal compliance. This part of the policy is often unique to the field or industry a company is in or other factors, such as location. For instance, companies face different regulations based on the state or country they're in. Regulations many companies must comply with include the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation and the United States' Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, both of which restrict how companies handle customers' personal information. The social media policy should outline how to comply with these regulations, as well as copyright law and marketing restrictions, such as disclaimers for testimonials.
  • Rules for employees' personal use of social media. Most employees are responsible for representing the standards of their company even when they are using their personal social media accounts. Companies must be clear about what standards they expect employees to adhere to and whether it's OK to post content that shows the workplace, a company uniform or other affiliation, and whether posts require a disclaimer explaining the content doesn't represent the company.
  • Consequences for violating. A social media policy should be transparent as to what the consequences are for employees violating the rules.

How to implement social media policy

To implement a social media policy, follow these five steps:

  1. Establish the guidelines. An organization must decide what its social media policy is, provide guidelines and set expectations. This involves getting input from stakeholders such as users, human resources (HR) personnel, IT staff, social media team members, other managers, union reps and the legal department.
  2. Assign roles. Roles should be assigned, specifying who does what. This might include charging HR with addressing DEI protocols, IT with handling security and team managers with overseeing implementation and discipline. Once assigned, a resource list should be made of these employees and their roles.
  3. Distribute it. A social media policy should be easily accessible to all employees, included in the employee handbook and on shared drives, and posted online if the public needs to access it.
  4. Update it regularly. Companies should commit to regularly updating their social media policy, whether it be annually or quarterly. This is useful because social media constantly changes, and often, new social media apps, such as TikTok, become popular with new aspects that old social media policies don't address.
  5. Enforce it. Specific managers must be designated to enforce the social media policy. This process often involves sending employees policy reminders, conducting social listening and social media audits that examine all accounts that represent the company, and watching out for imposter accounts or noncompliance with security and policy measures.

Social media policy example

The following is an example of a generic social media policy that can help minimize social media risks:

[Name of company] Social Media Policy

We encourage employees to participate in the various forms of social media, including forums, blogs, wikis and social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. However, interactions on these services can have implications for the company and the public perception of the company.

Internal company information and communications are considered confidential unless explicitly noted and must not be shared, discussed or published in any way outside the company. Examples of this type of information include personnel changes, company plans, company finances, client information and information related to how the business is run.

Exceptions to this rule would be information that is shared through the PR or corporate marketing teams. Any external communications related to the company's finances should be managed through the investor relations department.

All employees must observe the following guidelines regarding the use of social media:

  1. If you participate on social media sites in your personal life, you should separate personal from professional participation. Use separate accounts and/or privacy controls when they are available to control what your contacts, friends or followers see.
  2. The creation of postings under user IDs or "handles" that involve company trademarks require written approval of your manager and notification to the General Counsel.
  3. Internal company communications, conversations, and similar private, privileged communications and sensitive information must not be shared on social media accounts, including ones that are password-protected. Do not post or discuss confidential and proprietary information. If you're unsure about whether a topic is appropriate, speak with your manager.
  4. You are responsible for what you publish on your own accounts. For any blog, comment or other posting related to the company or its industry generally, you must do the following:
    • identify who you are and your role at the company; and
    • make it clear that the views expressed are your personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of the company.
  1. All postings and comments must be respectful of the company and its employees, users, customers, vendors, business partners and competitors. Do not use ethnic slurs, personal insults or obscenity, and do not engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the company's workplace. Be respectful of others' privacy, and steer away from topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory, such as politics and religion.
  2. Do not post or comment about work- or industry-related issues under anonymous handles.
  3. Do not post or comment about the company's financial performance, including revenues, future products, pricing decisions, unannounced financial results or similar topics. Stay away from discussing financial topics related to the company or its industry.
  4. At times, the company may request that you temporarily confine online commentary to certain topics unrelated to the company. This situation may be necessary to manage regulatory or litigation matters or to ensure compliance with securities regulations or other laws.
  5. Use your online activities to add value. On topics related to the company, participate in online dialogues and forums in ways that reflect positively on the company and further its interests.
  6. Never pick fights, and be the first to correct your own mistakes. Don't alter a previous post without indicating that you have done so.
  7. Use good judgment and common sense because what you publish is not private and not retractable. Think about the consequences of what you are posting or commenting on before doing so.
  8. If other participants in these communities want to discuss their personal opinions about the company or its business, respond respectfully, and point people to the appropriate employees who deal with those specific issues.

Violations of this policy will result in disciplinary action in line with the nature of the violation. Such action could include warnings, mandatory social media training, suspension and termination.

Who to contact to learn more or report this social media policy and issues related to it include the following:

    • Social media policy. Contact the Vice President of Communications and Social Media.
    • Crisis management. Contact Head of Communications.
    • Security breach. Contact Director of IT.
    • Social media violations. Contact Human Resources.

Social media policy templates

A generic social media policy template should include the following:

  • Introduction. This is where a company defines social media and addresses the general benefits and risks of employees' behavior. The introduction should also address the scope of the policy, including what employees the policy applies to and the company values the policy intends to uphold.
  • Guidelines. The section lays out a list of guidelines for acceptable use and expectations from employees who use both company and personal social media accounts. Security protocols are also included here.
  • Policy enforcement. This part outlines the various levels of disciplinary action different violations of the social media policy will incur.
  • Emergency and contact information. This section explains how to report improper social media use, what the steps are for responding to a social media issue and who to contact for different issues. The list of contacts should include management positions with designated roles for handling social media use, as well as policy updates, enforcement and discipline.

Social media policy template

Follow this template to create a social media policy for your organization.

A social media policy is important to prevent employees from harming the brand or reputation of their company. Learn about the essential social media guidelines for employees.

This was last updated in February 2023

Continue Reading About social media policy

Dig Deeper on Risk management

Enterprise Desktop
Cloud Computing