One errant social media post.
Who wouldn’t want to be the advertising executive for FedEx, one of the biggest media buyers in the world? Well, the marketing agency Ketchum holds the contract valued somewhere north of $50 million per year. Well, they did hold it until the day their VP James Andrews tweeted:
Data from a recent Pew Research Center study revealed just half of employees report that their workplace has rules about social media use at work If our organization does not have such a policy, we’re at risk for public shaming, litigation and security breaches.
A social media policy has to be part of our employee handbook, just as necessary for us as discrimination, leave, and vacation policies. We can wind up in a host of problems if our staff say something negative about our company, reveal confidential information, or even share personal views out of line with our customers. We can even run astray of the law if our staff say something positive about the company without disclosing their employment.
Firing Someone For Their Social Media Posts
The largest government player in social media law is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The law allows all employees the right to engage in “concerted activities” for the “mutual aid and protection” of co-workers This also includes social media activities. Therefore, any policy that prevents our employees from their right to express such worries would be ruled illegal. But the law doesn’t protect our employees from disparaging remarks about our products or our customers or even posts which contradict the core beliefs of our customers.
If we own a Chipotle franchise and our employee tweets that the burritos suck, we’re free to fire them. But if they post an essay to Medium saying, ‘I’m getting underpaid to make burritos”, then it’s about working conditions, which are protected.
Risks and Benefits of Social Media
Seventy percent of American workers use social media at work, according to a recent report from Bambu by Sprout Social.
There are lots of good reasons to permit social media use on the job. Pew Research says the five biggest reasons employees cite are:
- to take a mental break from their job
- connect with family and friends
- support professional connections
- get information to solve problems at work
- build relationships with coworkers
While having our employees maintain a strong social media presence can improve our organization’s communication, recruitment, research, and client base, using social media at work for either professional or personal involves the following risks, according to the Society For Human Resource Management:
- The possibility for hackers to commit fraud and launch spam and virus attacks.
- The risk of people falling prey to online scams that seem genuine, resulting in data or identity theft or a compromise of the company’s computer security.
- A potential outlet for negative comments from employees about the organization.
- Legal consequences if employees use these sites to view or distribute objectionable, illicit or offensive material.
Creating a Social Media Policy
Except for environments where less than 100% focus upon tasks is dangerous (operating machinery, etc), there’s no sense in us banning social media usage at work. Millennials won’t stand for it, so such restrictions will hinder our ability to recruit and keep great employees. For the present workforce, social media is now omnipresent. It’s our new telephone.
Social media policies should align with our organization’s culture and industry. But at a minimum, our policies should include the following:
- Titles of those who are permitted to officially speak on behalf of our organization. If an employee is contacted via Facebook with a question or concern about the company, should they forward it to a certain company representative?
- Guidelines for how we will respond to employee’s personal postings that include discrimination or threats of violence.
- Guidelines for how we will respond to employee’s personal posting on topics related to our industry.
- Training procedures, including informing employees what information can be shared about our business.
There’s been much written about the dissolution of the work/life divide. We work from home and live personal lives in the office. There is much good in this transformation as employees become more holistic with their lives and thus more productive. The downside is the still evolving law around social media+ as well as our understanding as to its potential to blow our business up with just one errant post.
This is why we need a policy and we need to provide our employees guidance to assist them in avoiding pitfalls which can trash their career and our bottom line.
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Sample Social Media Policies
(approved by the NLRB in 2012)
At Walmart, we understand that social media can be a fun and rewarding way to share your life and opinions with family, friends and co-workers around the world. However, use of social media also presents certain risks and carries with it certain responsibilities. To assist you in making responsible decisions about your use of social media, we have established these guidelines for appropriate use of social media.
This policy applies to all associates who work for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., or one of its subsidiary companies in the United States (Walmart).
Managers and supervisors should use the supplemental Social Media Management Guidelines for additional guidance in administering the policy.
In the rapidly expanding world of electronic communication, social media can mean many things. Social media includes all means of communicating or posting information or content of any sort on the Internet, including to your own or someone else’s web log or blog, journal or diary, personal website, social networking or affinity Web site, Web bulletin board or a chat room, whether or not associated or affiliated with Walmart, as well as any other form of electronic communication.
The same principles and guidelines found in Walmart policies and three basic beliefs apply to your activities online. Ultimately, you are solely responsible for what you post online. Before creating online content, consider some of the risks and rewards that are involved. Keep in mind that any of your conduct that adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow associates or otherwise adversely affects members, customers, suppliers, people who work on behalf of Walmart or Walmart’s legitimate business interests may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.
Know and follow the rules
Carefully read these guidelines, the Walmart Statement of Ethics Policy, the Walmart Information Policy and the Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Policy, and ensure your postings are consistent with these policies. Inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated and may subject you to disciplinary action up to and including termination.
Always be fair and courteous to fellow associates, customers, members, suppliers or people who work on behalf of Walmart. Also, keep in mind that you are more likely to resolve work–related complaints by speaking directly with your co-workers or by utilizing our Open Door Policy than by posting complaints to a social media outlet. Nevertheless, if you decide to post complaints or criticism, avoid using statements, photographs, video or audio that reasonably could be viewed as malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating, that disparage customers, members, associates or suppliers, or that might constitute harassment or bullying. Examples of such conduct might include offensive posts meant to intentionally harm someone’s reputation or posts that could contribute to a hostile work environment on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion or any other status protected by law or company policy.
Be honest and accurate
Make sure you are always honest and accurate when posting information or news, and if you make a mistake, correct it quickly. Be open about any previous posts you have altered. Remember that the Internet archives almost everything; therefore, even deleted postings can be searched. Never post any information or rumors that you know to be false about Walmart, fellow associates, members, customers, suppliers, people working on behalf of Walmart or competitors.
Post only appropriate and respectful content
Maintain the confidentiality of Walmart trade secrets and private or confidential information. Trades secrets may include information regarding the development of systems, processes, products, know-how and technology. Do not post internal reports, policies, procedures or other internal business-related confidential communications.
Respect financial disclosure laws. It is illegal to communicate or give a “tip” on inside information to others so that they may buy or sell stocks or securities. Such online conduct may also violate the Insider Trading Policy.
Do not create a link from your blog, website or other social networking site to a Walmart website without identifying yourself as a Walmart associate.
Express only your personal opinions. Never represent yourself as a spokesperson for Walmart. If Walmart is a subject of the content you are creating, be clear and open about the fact that you are an associate and make it clear that your views do not represent those of Walmart, fellow associates, members, customers, suppliers or people working on behalf of Walmart. If you do publish a blog or post online related to the work you do or subjects associated with Walmart, make it clear that you are not speaking on behalf of Walmart. It is best to include a disclaimer such as “The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Walmart.”
Using social media at work
Refrain from using social media while on work time or on equipment we provide, unless it is work-related as authorized by your manager or consistent with the Company Equipment Policy. Do not use Walmart email addresses to register on social networks, blogs or other online tools utilized for personal use.
Retaliation is prohibited
Walmart prohibits taking negative action against any associate for reporting a possible deviation from this policy or for cooperating in an investigation. Any associate who retaliates against another associate for reporting a possible deviation from this policy or for cooperating in an investigation will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
Associates should not speak to the media on Walmart’s behalf without contacting the Corporate Affairs Department. All media inquiries should be directed to them.
For more information
If you have questions or need further guidance, please contact your HR representative.
As one of the most recognizable fashion brands in the world, GAP also recognizes the need to moderate the use of social media amongst their employees within the work place. At a company conference last year, GAP handed out brochures to its employees depicting proper guidelines and decorum that had to be satisfied when partaking in social media. It was an interesting approach, as the brochure’s content was very conversational, but very straight-forward as well. Here are some excerpts:
- “Some subjects can invite a flame war. Be careful discussing things where emotions run high (e.g. politics and religion) and show respect for others’ opinions.”
- “Your job comes first. Unless you are an authorized Social Media Manager, don’t let social media affect your job performance.”
- “If you #!%#@# up? Correct it immediately and be clear about what you’ve done to fix it. Contact the social media team if it’s a real doozy.”
- “Don’t even think about it…. Talking about financial information, sales trends, strategies, forecasts, legal issues, future promotional activities. Giving out personal information about customers or employees. Posting confidential or non-public information. Responding to an offensive or negative post by a customer. There’s no winner in that game.”
Social Media Policies
Our employer is easy to identify with and all of us are very passionate about what we do on a daily basis. At the adidas Group we believe in open communication and you are encouraged to tell the world about your work and share your passion. Whether you do so by participating in a blog, wiki, online social network or any other form of online publishing or discussion is completely up to you.
However, these new ways of communication are changing the way we talk to each other and even to our consumers, target audiences and partners.
In order to avoid any problems or misunderstandings, we have come up with a few guidelines to provide helpful and practical advice for you when operating on the internet as an identifiable employee of the adidas Group and its brands.
First, please familiarize yourself with and follow the adidas Group Code of Conduct and the Global Policy Manuals
When you discuss adidas Group- or brand-related matters on the internet, you must identify yourself with your name and, when relevant, your role at the adidas Group. Only very few people in this company are official spokesperson for the Group or its brands, so if you are not one of them you must make clear that you are speaking for yourself and not for the Group. You can use a disclaimer like “The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the position, strategy or opinions of the adidas Group and its brands”. Please always write in the first person and don’t use your company email address for private communications. And please consider that even anonymous postings on Wikipedia can be traced back to the company.
You are personally responsible for the content you publish on blogs, wikis or any other form of user-generated media. Please remember that the internet never forgets. This means everything you publish will be visible to the world for a very, very long time. Common sense is a huge factor here. If you are about to publish something that makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable, review. If you are still unsure and it is related to the adidas Group and its brands, talk to your manager or Corporate Communications (please find contacts below).
Just because information is on the internal network (like the adiweb, das-net or Vision Asia), it is not ok to let the rest of the world know about it. If an item features the sentence “for internal use only” then that is exactly what it means and it is absolutely not meant to be forwarded to anyone who is not employed by the adidas Group. No exceptions. Messages from our CEO to all employees are not meant for the media. If we as a company wanted a newspaper to know how our CEO sees the future of our Group the PR department would call them up and tell them.It is perfectly fine to talk about your work and have a dialogue with the community (see # 2) but it is not okay to talk about the design or name for the new World Cup ball months before its official launch. If you have signed a confidentiality agreement you are expected to follow it. If the judgement call is tough on secrets or other issues discussed, please ask your manager before you publish or forward. Please act responsibly with the information you are entrusted with.
Do not comment on work-related legal matters unless you are an official spokesperson, and have the legal approval by the adidas Group or its brands to do so. In addition, talking about revenues, future products, pricing decisions, unannounced financial results or similar matters will get you, the company or both into serious trouble. Stay away from discussing financial topics and predictions of future performance at all costs.
Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the adidas Group’s workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory (like religion or politics). If you are in a virtual world as an adidas Group representative please dress and behave accordingly. We all appreciate respect.
Think about consequences. Imagine you are sitting in a sales meeting and your client brings out a printout of a colleague’s post that states that the product you were about to sell “completely sucks”. Talk about a tough pitch. So, please remember: Using your public voice to trash or embarrass your employer, your customers, your co-workers or even yourself is not okay – and not very smart.
Have you posted something that just wasn’t true? Be the first to respond to your own mistake. In a blog, if you choose to modify an earlier post, make it clear that you have done so.
Please respect copyright. If it is not yours, don’t use it. It is very simple. It is that person’s choice to share his or her material with the world, not yours. Before posting someone else’s work, please check with the owner first.
Don’t cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval. When you do make a reference, where possible, link back to the source.
Be aware that others will associate you with your employer when you identify yourself as such. Please ensure that your Facebook, Linked-in profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself with clients and colleagues. Even if you act with the best intentions, you must remember that anything you put out there about the adidas Group can potentially harm the company. This goes for all internal media as well, like the intranet or any newsletters you send out. As soon as you act on the company’s behalf by distributing information, you are upholding the company’s image. Please act responsibly. If in doubt, please contact the Corporate Communications Team (see contacts below) or your manager before you hit the send button.
And finally. With all the blogging and interacting, don’t forget your daily job.