Social Media Policy Offers Dos and Don'ts for Employees

Many companies have a love-hate relationship social media. They hate that employees may say something inappropriate or confidential, but they love the marketing impact of an army of workers hitting the social networks. We peek into Xerox's social media policy to see what the company tells its workers.

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Is social media part of your job? Many employees, not just those in marketing, are being asked to use their personal social networking accounts on behalf of their companies.

Social media works best when companies target a social network -- such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest -- with their marketing message in hopes of reaching and piquing the interest of social media influencers, which, in turn, can lead to a viral buzz with massive exposure. Nearly every employee needs to participate in order to pull it off.

Echoing this sentiment, Xerox's social media policy succinctly states the following: "Individual interactions represent a new model, not mass communications, but masses of communicators."

Social Media Can Be Risky Business

For companies, there's an element of danger in asking employees to spout off on social networks. After all, the public corporate image is at risk. Employees also risk offending the company and losing their jobs. Social media in the enterprise is littered with tales of employees getting sacked.

There needs to be clear communication between employer and employee on how employees should behave on social networks, in the form of a written policy, not just for their safety but also to be more effective. We're still in the heady days of the social revolution where missteps happen all the time.

Xerox, for instance, has a social media policy for employees with social media as part of their formal job description, but it apparently didn't save a call center employee who says she was fired for an Instagram posting. DeMetra "Meech" Christopher claims she never saw the social media policy because social media wasn't officially part of her job.

Nevertheless, Xerox's social media policy, which supplements a general Code of Business Conduct policy, provides a starting point for better communication between employer and employee in the social revolution. It's also worth a closer look, because it helps employees become better social networkers.

The 10-page social media policy opens with general ethical guidelines and goes on to cover best practices in blogging, microblogging (e.g, Twitter), message boards, social networking and video-audio sharing.

Among the general guidelines, Xerox employees are urged to get training in search optimization principles from a local Web expert. When discussing Xerox-related matters that might encourage someone to buy Xerox products or services, employees are required by the Federal Trade Commission to clearly identify themselves.

If employees are publishing content outside of Xerox, they should use a disclaimer such as, "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent Xerox's position, strategies or opinions."

Employees need to write in the first person to give a sense of individual accountability. They shouldn't become embroiled in public disputes or use sarcasm, ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, "or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in Xerox's workplace," states the policy. "You should also show proper consideration for other's privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or very sensitive -- such as politics and religion."

Xerox serves up helpful tips for employees to become better bloggers, social networkers and contributors on messaging boards. Writing tips read like an English 101 composition class. They range from having an objective before tapping the keyboard to using your natural voice to always telling the truth. Employees should act professionally when confronted with inaccurate information or negative comments. Also, don't write when you're unhappy, the policy advises.

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