Social Media Etiquette: Two Types of Social Media Policies You Need

The following post is a Guest Post by a featured contributor to the Small Business Sense blog.   Nick Forsyth is the owner of Yellowfire, a marketing service for small businesses.
Processing a wealth of knowledge regarding the pressures that small businesses face. Nicky effectively aids small businesses in the best practices for maximizing marketing budgets.  Take it away Nick….
Come on – we all do it!
We all have bad days at work and afterwards we go home and mouth-off about it to family and friends.  
And in doing that, we say all sorts of things about our colleagues, bosses, clients, suppliers or the company as a whole that are better not to be repeated.  
If there is anyone out there who has honestly never done this, then they should be next-up for a sainthood.  
But mostly this is a process of letting off steam, and we usually go back into work the next day and realize it isn’t that bad after all and we get on with our jobs. The following post covers social media etiquette tips that businesses can implement.

Why Social Media Etiquette is Important for Businesses 

As Winckworth Sherwood points out the only thing that has changed is that nowadays instead of mouthing-off at home or down the pub people go onto social media and express their frustrations there.   
And social media is so public and leaky that all sorts of dubious comments are getting out into the public domain unintentionally. 
Then, of course many companies are using social media to promote their businesses or to communicate with their customers.
And in anything but the smallest organisation this means that marketing and communications staff are posting regularly on social media in a much more casual manner than has ever been used for business communications before, and they need to be very clear about the boundaries of acceptability.   
So, breatheHR considers that it is getting ever more important for organisations to have a well thought-through social media policy  that enforces social media etiquette and one that is regularly kept up to date. 
 This policy should contain illustrations of its points with examples of unacceptable comments and it should make a distinction between what is considered misconduct and gross misconduct (i.e. dismissible behaviour).

Two Ways  to Enforce Social Media Etiquette and Types of Social Media Policies to Create


Social Media Etiquette Tips for Personal Use

In your policy about personal use of social media at work, start off with when it is acceptable to use it.  This is going to be similar to any policy you have on personal use of email and internet.
You may already have rules that say this should be confined to lunch time and outside office hours, and if so you can replicate the same rules for social media use.   But do make sure that all employees are aware and regularly reminded about this policy.
With social media etiquette, privacy settings Privacy settings are probably the biggest issue for personal use of social media.
Tip 1: Require your staff to update their privacy settings
Firstly, you can require that all staff set their privacy settings to keep their comments private to their own circle of friends and family, and make no reference to their employer’s name in their profile.  
This, in theory, would keep all their comments out of the public domain and unrelated to their employment.  But it is so easy for friends to copy and forward comments into the public domain, that even tight privacy does not make social media a safe place to make derogatory comments.  
So you have to make clear to staff that they must treat all comments made on social media as public regardless of their privacy settings, and require of them that they make no reference to their employer at all.
So far, so good. But then we know that privacy settings on social media sites and apps, often change with updates, so it is important to remind staff to check their privacy settings regularly in order to keep them secure.
Tip 2: Monitor your employees behavior on social networks while they are at work
Some employers choose to monitor the internet for comments about the company from either staff or customers.  If you want to do this, or even consider you might want to do it in the future, then it is important to tell staff in order to avoid them arguing in a dispute that it is a breach of trust.  
Also, in research studies employees have often said that they would have been more careful about what they said on social media if they had known their employers would read their comments.  
So it is likely that just knowing that their employer may pick up on a comment may be enough to make staff think before they type on social media.  This, then, is another thing to remind them about regularly. 

How to Dispute Comments On Social Media

In a dispute about comments on social media some of the criteria a tribunal will look for are:

  • Was the comment made from the office during office hours?
  • Was the employee using office equipment or their own device?
  • Does their profile page state who their employer is?
  • Are their settings set to private amongst just their friends?
  • Does their comment relate to their employer relationship?

But even then there have been cases where staff have made comments from home, after hours and from their own device confidentially to their friends, and their profile page does not show who their employer is; but there still is a case against them because the employer is potentially brought into disrepute by their comments.  
These cases have come down in the employer’s favor because information is so easily copied out of the private environment into the public domain by their friends so the tribunal is deciding that nothing posted online can be considered truly private.

Social Media Etiquette for Business-Related Uses

It is increasingly popular for businesses to use some form of social media to promote their products and to communicate with their customers.  This is very common amongst SMEs as it allows them to gain greater reach without a large marketing budget.
It means integrating use of social media into the marketing and communications strategy in order to promote a brand and reputation.
So if you are embarking on this type of promotion then there are more guidelines to think about when you are putting together a social media policy for those staff tasked with the job of promoting your organisation.
Richards Dennison offers some guidance for BT employees including:
You are personally responsible for any comments you make and remember that they will remain online for many years.
When commenting always disclose who you are and your role in the company and include a disclaimer saying “these are my personal views and do not express the views of my employer”.

  • Only contribute to social media during office hours if it contributes to your job role.
  • If you are uneasy about something you are about to say, then it is probably best not to say it.
  • Never disclose commercially sensitive information and make sure you are not infringing copyright rules.
  • Be honest and open. but be careful of what impact your comments will have on the company’s reputation.
  • If you make a mistake – come clean quickly and apologize.
  • Don’t pick fights and look for ways to correct misrepresentations.
  • Don’t discuss customers, competitors, partners or suppliers without their permission.
  • Don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say in the office.  The same rules of acceptable behavior apply.
  • Don’t publish anyone’s personal contact details online including your own.
  • Observe activity on a new social media site before contributing, so you match any unwritten rules that others follow.

So, the message from breatheHR here is – create yourself a social media policy according to these guidelines and make sure all staff read and sign it.
This will help protect your company’s position should someone make unguarded comments online. Social media is so pervasive; you ignore it at your peril!

Kim George