Social media policies: guide for organisations (with examples)
Social media policies are increasingly vital in an era where the overlap between our personal and professional lives has never been more pronounced. As the digital landscape becomes an integral part of everyday communication, employers are recognising the need for clear guidelines outlining how employees can use social networks safely and appropriately.
Authored by specialist employment solicitor, Dipo Osikoya, this post first explains the fundamentals of social media policies for employees and why they’re important. It then provides practical, hands-on guidance on what to include in your organisation’s documentation, reflecting on some best practice social media policy examples.
There’s a considerable amount to unpack here. If you’re interested in one particular section, use the links below to navigate straight to it:
- What is a social media policy?
- Why is it important to have a robust social media policy in place?
- Social media policy examples
- How to write a social media policy
- How we can help.
Ready to talk about your organisation’s social media policy? Contact our team today.
What is a social media policy?
A social media policy is a document that advises employees about how to behave on social networks. Similar to an offline code of conduct, the policy should set clear expectations on what is and isn’t acceptable for employees to discuss through social media.
Also referred to as a social network policy, the primary purpose of this documentation is to state what kinds of information employees can post online. It will often outline limitations on sharing commercially sensitive data or, in certain contexts, personal opinions, particularly where this could prejudice the organisation’s reputational or financial position.
A policy will typically also include specific directives about the circumstances in which employees are allowed to use social networks as part of their work. For example, there may be restrictions in place to limit or prevent usage during normal working hours or when working from certain locations.
Furthermore, social media policies should state if or when employees can disclose that they represent the company – and on which personal or professional platforms. Organisations must therefore consider the many diverse social networks that are in use when planning a policy.
Why is it important to have a robust social media policy in place?
In today’s dynamic workplace, social media policies are an indispensable tool for employers. Let’s consider some of the key reasons why your organisation should implement comprehensive documentation and processes relating to social network usage.
Protecting company reputation
The most immediately apparent reason to implement a social media policy is that it serves as a protective shield for a company’s reputation. Employees, as brand ambassadors, have the potential to significantly impact how the public perceives their employer. A clear policy helps mitigate the risk of employees posting inappropriate or damaging content that could harm the company’s image. Establishing guidelines on what is acceptable and what is not helps employers to maintain a positive online presence and safeguard brand identity.
Mitigating legal risks
Social media can be a legal minefield for employers if not navigated carefully. A comprehensive social media policy provides a framework for addressing potential legal issues, such as defamation, harassment, or the unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information. By setting clear expectations and consequences for inappropriate online conduct, employers can mitigate legal risks and create a safer working environment. As such, it is advisable to speak to a legal expert before you begin drafting your documentation.
Defining boundaries between personal and professional life
The line between personal and professional life is often blurred on social media platforms. A well-defined social media policy assists employees in understanding the boundaries between their personal and professional online personas. This level of clarity prevents potential conflicts of interest and ensures that employees are mindful of how their online activities may reflect on the company.
Excessive use of social media during work hours can impact productivity. A social media policy can set guidelines on appropriate use during working hours, helping to minimise distractions and maintain focus on job responsibilities. Ultimately, the goal here is to ensure that employees use company time efficiently and effectively, contributing to overall productivity.
Adapting to evolving trends
Social media is dynamic, with new platforms and trends emerging regularly. A social media policy is a flexible tool that can be adapted to address evolving technologies and employee behaviours. Regularly reviewing and updating the policy ensures that it remains relevant and effective in addressing the challenges posed by the ever-changing digital landscape.
Social media policy examples
When looking to draft your own documentation, looking at other social media policy examples is an excellent starting point. Where possible, it is prudent to source a best practice example from an organisation that shares similarities with your own: this could be based on the industry you operate in, or the level of exposure your employees have to social media as part of their roles.
In this section, I explore key points raised by two high-profile social media policies – one from a public sector body and the other from a prominent private company.
The Information Commissioner’s Office
If you’re in search of social media policy examples pertaining to the public sector, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) provides the ideal documentation to consult.
Similar to other sample policies you’ll find online, the ICO documentation features some blanket statements that allow for open interpretation of the possible damage caused by individual social media posts:
“5.1 You must not make any social media communications that could damage our business interests or reputation, whether directly or indirectly.”
As we would expect of any social media policy, a degree of clarity is also provided regarding online declarations of employment with the ICO:
“11.1 Can I declare on social media that I work for the ICO?
Yes, if it is a professional based social media platform, but ensure you reflect a professional view of yourself and the organisation in all your postings. You should be aware of the ability of people to connect your work role to other social media which you use on a personal basis. However, there is unlikely to be a need for you to say you work at the ICO on personal social networking sites.”
In certain ways, however, this documentation is unique in offering advice specifically relating to the ICO’s role in the public sector:
“5.4 You should note that if you provide advice on social media in a personal capacity on matters which relate to the ICO’s responsibilities, it is often easy for you to be identified as connected to the ICO. Therefore your advice may be interpreted as reflecting an official ICO line. You should therefore avoid exposing yourself to a situation where your advice or views could potentially be interpreted as those of the ICO. Speak to your manager as soon as possible if you think that there is a risk that this may have occurred.”
This type of passage would only be relevant to a specialised non-departmental public body such as the ICO. In this way, it highlights the importance of seeking out specialist support when tailoring a social media policy to the individual requirements of your organisation.
Dell Technologies Global
Private sector businesses have been known to implement more top-level, advisory social media policies that convey core values in a consumer-friendly way rather than detailing complex regulations. One such example is the Dell Technologies Global Social Media Policy.
In addition to highlighting clearly the consequences of violating the policy, Dell outlines its Five Social Media Principles:
- Be Nice, Have Fun and Connect!
- Protect Information
- Be Transparent and Disclose
- Follow the Law, Follow the Code of Conduct
- Be Responsible
Rather than elaborating at length, Dell’s policy writers have opted to lean on the company’s wider human resources documentation, such as its Code of Conduct, and encourage readers in that direction instead.
Unsure of how detailed your social media policy should be? Our expert solicitors for employers are well placed to help you identify what’s required, no matter the scale and nature of the organisation. Speak to our team today.
How to write a social media policy
Implementing an inadequate or poorly drafted social media policy can cause serious financial and/or reputational damage, so we would always recommend consulting a legal specialist before attempting to write documentation internally.
This notwithstanding, there are certain aspects that any experienced policy writer will look to address as part of a robust social networking policy.
1. Consider the circumstances and needs of your organisation
As we’ve seen, no two organisations are equal when it comes to social media policies. Whilst certain public sector bodies may ban social media during work time altogether, some private businesses will provide specific parameters on the acceptable usage of social networks (particularly if this is a requirement of some employees’ roles).
The key when carrying out an initial evaluation of requirements is to leave no stone unturned and consider all of the possible angles. Often this is less challenging with the support of an external third-party such as a specialist solicitor.
2. Be clear with expectations and consequences
Some elements of social media policies may be left open to interpretation – for example, when discussing what constitutes reputational damage as a result of social media communications, it may be challenging to offer an exact set of definitions.
However, it is vital to be completely clear when explaining what is expected of employees and the consequences of not adhering to these expectations. Failure to convey this information clearly could result in your policy being deemed unlawfully vague, which in turn could reduce the level of protection that it provides to the organisation.
3. Specify individual social media platforms
If your policy writer neglects to reference a certain social network upon which an incident later takes place, this could undermine your organisation’s ability to take decisive action. For this reason, we would always recommend listing out all of the social media platforms to which your policy pertains (and revisiting this list on a regular basis).
4. Protect important data and intellectual property
One of the core functions of your organisation’s social media policy is to prevent the threat of commercially sensitive data being leaked by employees online. Your documentation should thus define exactly which types of information are prohibited and explain the potential consequences of an employee unlawfully sharing it on a social network.
5. Routinely update your social media policy
The social media landscape moves fast, requiring that your policy be reviewed and updated on a routine basis. The burgeoning popularity of TikTok has provided an often-cited example of why it is wise to revisit your social network policy frequently: in recent years, several multinational corporations have failed to update their policies to include references to TikTok, leaving them unprotected in relation to their employees’ activity on the platform.
How we can help
A well-crafted social media policy is an essential tool for employers navigating the complexities of the modern workplace. By providing clear guidelines, employers can protect their brand, mitigate legal risks, and foster a positive workplace culture. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, having a social media policy in place becomes not just a prudent business decision but a strategic necessity for responsible and effective workforce management.
Need support with any aspect of creating an organisational policy for social media? Get in touch today for a free consultation with the experts at Richard Nelson LLP. Alternatively, visit our employment law for businesses page to learn more about the services we offer.