Social media (or social networking or Web 2.0) is not a fad. Your employees are using it, and you need to develop a social media policy so employees and management understand the proper use of various social media tools. The goal should not be to stifle use of social media, but to protect the company’s interest while minimizing potential risks. Each company’s policy will be different depending on how your company uses and intends to use social media. Work with your attorney to design an individualized policy.

Some general guidelines follow:

  • Do understand your company’s need for a social media policy. Increasingly, social media is an integral part of many employees’ lives. Before developing a social media policy, you should understand how your company and employees use social media, especially if employees are using it to enhance their professional reputations.
  • Do define of “social media” broadly. The definition of social media is a moving target. Years ago, it meant personal profile pages like ones on Myspace and Facebook. Today, it includes one-line updates, or Tweets, and checking-in at local hotspots via Foursquare. What is next, we do not know, so include language in your policy that acknowledges unknown future trends.
  • Do describe the overall scope of the social media policy and how it relates to other company policies. This policy should mirror and enhance existing company policies and conduct codes.
  • Do set guidelines for internal computer use generally. Employees should know that:                - If it is done on a work machine, it belongs to the company.- Content produced on work machines is not private.- Content produced at work or on a work machine may be monitored.
  • Do set guidelines for outbound communications. Employees should:                – Exercise care in drafting all communications, whether personal or
    professional.- Social media is regarded as public, so pause before posting.- Never post inappropriate content. This includes any illegal or illicit behavior
    whether depicted in words, links, or photos.

    - Never comment on the company’s legal issues online. This could waive
    attorney-client privilege related to those matters.

    - Never post confidential or “trade secret” information, including posts about new
    products, patents, or updates to products.

    - Avoid endorsing people or products online.

    - In general, employees should not hold themselves out as representative of the
    company when posting.

    - Establish an approval and moderating process for any employee who wishes to
    hold himself or herself out as representative of company (for example, if an
    employee writes a professional blog).

  • Do allow employees to ask questions and ultimately sign the policy.
  • Don’t discipline employees for social media policy violations without consulting your attorney. The law regarding overreaching social media policies is developing. For example, the NLRB recently took the position that an employee’s disparaging remarks about her boss on Facebook constituted “protected concerted activity” under labor law and therefore, related discipline was impermissible. That case settled, so the law remains unclear. Accordingly, employers must tread carefully and consult an attorney before issuing discipline related to social media use.
  • Don’t view social media profiles without authorization. Never attempt to hack into a Web site, ask a third party to give you access to a page, or misrepresent your identity, or coerce someone into giving you a password to see a social media page.
  • Don’t consult social media sites when making hiring decisions. Social media profiles are filled with personal information (sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, age, disability, and so forth) that could form the basis of a discrimination-in-hiring lawsuit. Protect your company by having a consistent policy of avoiding social media when screening applicants.

Special thanks to Kenny W. Hoeschen who also contributed to the content of this article.