Social media guidelines outline how a company's employees should present themselves online.
In April 2023, 21-year-old Jack Teixeira was arrested for posting classified documents on two chatrooms on Discord, a popular social media chatroom platform for gamers. As a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, Teixeira had top security clearance and started sharing top-secret documents about the Russian-Ukrainian war. By posting these leaked documents, Teixeira was trying to show off to other users, often posting “hot off the press;” however, these documents were a threat to U.S. security.
Around 80.9% of Americans use some form of social media, and most users access social media daily, according to The Global Statistics. People use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms for social networking to connect with friends, family and co-workers. These posts can go viral in seconds, and the wrong post can tarnish a reputation.
One example of a social media mishap came from the top of social media giant Twitter. Former CFO Anthony Noto accidentally tweeted what was supposed to be a direct message publicly about a possible merger, which was in early stages and not ready to be announced at the time. Noto quickly deleted the tweet, but a few followers saved and shared it. Twitter did not address this tweet.
By creating social media guidelines, companies can empower employees and help them make the right choices on social media. These guidelines can prevent social media mishaps, and they can also turn team members into online brand ambassadors.
Why an enterprise social media policy is necessary
Companies shouldn't prohibit employees from using social media and talking about their employment. Giving the right guidelines serves as a helpful reminder for employees to be considerate, inclusive and optimistic both inside and outside of work.
Social media offers unique ways to interact with customers, promote content, advertise sales, highlight events and recruit talent. It can be a useful marketing tool for businesses. Employees who promote their company can take social media potential up a notch, reaching a larger audience. Every employee can be a brand ambassador, advocating for the company's products and services.
9 social media guidelines
When writing guidelines, avoid being too prohibitive. Federal agencies -- such as the National Labor Relations Board -- have found some policies to be restrictive. An overly controlling policy prohibits employees from mentioning working conditions, for example.
While companies cannot restrict information posted on personal accounts, employees should use common sense when on social media.
These guidelines shouldn't be written to scare employees. Rather, these guidelines are here to protect the employees and the company. Encourage employees to have fun, stay connected and be transparent.
Here are key points companies should include in social media guidelines.
1. Address use of personal social media during work hours
Everyone still has a day job, and it's easy to get wrapped up in social media. Include information on not using social media on company equipment unless it is work-related. When registering online accounts for personal use, employees should not use their company email address unless it is work-related.
Employees should still use decorum when posting on social media even in their personal time. Their posts leave a digital footprint and any derogatory or negative comments about their job can impact others’ views of their employer.
2. Encourage employees to be respectful
Employees should refrain from discriminatory or harassing posts. This guidance should apply to new posts, retweets, shares and hashtags.
Statements and slurs about race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity and gender can be considered offensive. Remind employees that their professional brand and personal brand are tied together. The wrong comment could land them in court.
Encourage employees to stop and think before posting, especially when angry. Even if someone deletes a post, it may be too late. Businesses should also give employees examples of harmful posts.
3. Follow social protocol
Most companies have a code of conduct policy in place that employees sign when hired. This policy outlines how the company expects its employees to act. Remind employees that this policy also applies online.
4. Prohibit posting company confidential information
These guidelines should prohibit employees from sharing any company confidential information. This prohibition covers such information as the following:
- client lists
- nonpublic financials
- business strategies
- legal matters
- marketing and sales plans
Include consequences for violating this policy.
5. Promote employee engagement
Encourage employees to follow the company's official social media accounts for a great starting place to engage with company content. They can share news, events and stories to get a good feel for company social media practices.
Employees should also list their employer -- if they are comfortable -- on their personal accounts, which adds another level to company trust. Individuals searching an organization want to know who works there, and they might see what your employees say.
6. Explain copyright and legal concerns
Outline copyright laws, and ensure employees know that there are legal constraints on the use of images, music, photos, videos and graphics. Attribute these copyrighted items to the original owner, or refrain from using them completely to avoid legal action.
7. Ensure opinions of the employee do not reflect the company
Employees should not state their opinions as being on behalf of the company. However, it's acceptable for employees to express their opinions. Create a disclaimer clause that highlights opinions of employees should always be associated with the employee and not the company. The wording can simply state "views expressed are my own" in the social media bio.
8. Prevent improper use of company logo
Employees should be able to use the company logo. However, it is important for businesses to give specific examples when the logo should not be used.
9. Do not respond to negative reviews or comments
It's easy to get caught up in a social media war. But only the social media manager should respond to negative comments and reviews based on company policy.
Having the social media manager -- who oversees all corporate accounts -- reply with a positive message shows the company cares and wants to address the issue. It's best for the social media manager to speak with the irate customer via email or over the phone. This takes the issue out of the spotlight. If the issue needs additional attention, the social media manager can escalate it.
Keys to setting up social media guidelines
With guidelines established, ensure employees are aware and follow them. Companies should also do the following:
- Provide ongoing training on social media. Ongoing education and monitoring help employees understand requirements. Business should continue to share these guidelines with employees through meetings, lunches, emails, training videos and other forms of communication to increase awareness and set expectations.
- Get top management support for these guidelines. A social media policy establishes open communication between employees and leadership. Leaders can make employees aware of company expectations and address challenges. Employees are less likely to share or post anything negative that affects the company's brand when hearing directions from top leadership.
- Designate a social media manager to handle social media. Assign an employee or third party to oversee content and manage corporate accounts. Anyone who uses the corporate social accounts should have a separate agreement that these are not for personal use.
- Decide where these guidelines live. These guidelines should be in the employee handbook, as well as somewhere employees can easily access. Keep these guidelines on the intranet, internal knowledge base, shared drive or anywhere else employees visit for information. Communicate any updates to the policy.