How to craft an effective social media policy

Social media, HR and legal experts share their advice regarding the use of social media networks while at the office or using company computers and devices. Also, a look at some of the legal issues surrounding the use of social media at work.

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Nowadays, it is almost impossible to prevent employees from using social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest – while at work. Some businesses are fine with that, even encouraging employees to promote the company and its products or services on social media. At the same time, however, they don’t want productivity to slip, or to have workers portray the company negatively on popular social media channels.

[ Related: A day in the life of a social CIO ]

So what steps can organizations realistically take to limit or control social media use while at work, without seeming like Big Brother or forbidding its use? Following are five expert tips, along with a sidebar on the legal ramifications of using social media for work or at the office.

1. Involve all departments. “Social media is not just the responsibility of the social media or marketing department,” says Mirna Bard, founder, Digital Marketer’s ToolBox. “To craft an effective policy, involve human resources, legal and compliance, as well as the public relations and marketing departments. This will lessen risks and make sure the social media policy is customized to the company” and is in compliance with company and legal requirements.

2. Use a filter. “Installing a DNS-based Web filter is critical for filtering out unwanted social media sites [and] also protecting the employees’ computers from malicious infections,” says Nick Espinosa, CIO, BSSi2, which provides IT support and consulting services. “A Web filter will block sites or ads that may be harmful to the computer and also allows for restrictions regarding where users can go. Everyone has a different opinion of what they call ‘social media,’ and there is a difference between checking Facebook and checking your Ashley Madison account at work,” he says. “Understand the distinctions and filter accordingly.”

3. Set aside times each day for social media use. “If an employee wants to use social media at work they’re going to find a way,” says Espinosa. “If they can’t use the network, then they will use their cell phone. The best policy a company can put into place is to not restrict access to social media but to restrict time. Create a policy that limits social media use to certain times during the day – lunch, for example – or give the user a finite amount of time throughout the day to check and be active with social media,” he suggests. “This not only satisfies their need but also gives the company excellent usage metrics.”

4. Have a written social media policy. “Include social media guidelines in your organization’s employee handbook,” advises Lisa Brown Morton, president and CEO of Nonprofit HR. “This will keep employees in the know about what they can and cannot do on social media.”

Similarly, “provide them with language on how to talk about your organization [on social media sites]. Social media is an excellent platform for recruiting, building credibility and sharing your hard work,” she points out. “Let your employees talk [on social media sites] in a way that benefits and promotes your organization.”

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