Why you should consider developing a social media policy for your employees

A recent research paper commissioned by ACAS and undertaken by the Institute of Employment Studies highlighted the difficulties some employers may have when setting standards for the use of social networks by their employees.

Whilst the report advises employers to take a “common-sense stance” to regulating behaviour, what they seem to forget is the age old adage that common sense is not common.

Protecting your business from the damage to its brand or reputation by its employees is of course sensible but nevertheless it’s not always clear what is acceptable behaviour i.e. when an employee is talking to his friends they may forget that others may also see their comments or that their friends may in fact be customers too.

In the last month there has been a number of high profile instances where a tweet supposedly said in jest has been subject to media scrutinisation, a very high profile example was a recent alleged racist comments branding Ashley Cole a ‘choc ice’ for supporting team-mate John Terry in court. Rio Ferdinand then shared the tweet in a message on Twitter with more than three million followers and subsequently the tweets originator is being investigated by the Police for racism. The issue of racism aside, a major brand like Manchester United could do without any of its players being involved in such a controversy and should always protect itself against potential damage caused by its employees.

This is where social media can become complicated, even though the person in question may only represent their own views, its not uncommon that Twitter accounts for high profile employees to state that they only represent their own views and not the views of the organisation they work for, however this may not be sufficient to protect damage to the company anyway.

In the early 90’s before social media existed, there was the very infamous speech by Gerald Ratner, Managing Director of Ratners – a large high street jewellery business whose wares were extremely popular with the public. During the speech at the Institute of Directors, Ratner  commented: “We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?”, I say, “because it’s total crap.”” He also compounded this by going on to remark that some of the earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long.” Ratner’s comments have become textbook examples of the folly of making fun of, and showing contempt to, customers.

After the speech, the value of the Ratner group plummeted by around £500 million, which very nearly resulted in the firm’s collapse but destroyed the brand which was replaced shortly after.

Today ‘Doing a Ratner’ has never been easier, a jest can be recorded and shared across many social media networks in an instant, what could be an innocent if not a naive comment can quickly be taken out of context and shared.

By having a written policy on ‘the acceptable use of social networking’ at work, an organisation can start to: -

  • Help protect the company or brand against liability for the actions of its workers.
  • Understand and protect the company against potential damage to its brand
  • Set guidelines for employees on what they can and cannot say about the company or its brand(s).
  • Assist employees to understand the difference between their private and professional profiles
  • Comply with the law on discrimination or data protection
  • Be clear about sensitive issues like social media monitoring
  • Explain what disciplinary rules and sanctions may be applied if the policy is breached.

Once the policy is in place follow this up with training for your staff and set-up a monitoring service to ensure the policy is followed in order to help protect your business.

Author: Neil Pickstone
Company: Volcanic(UK) Ltd

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