by Tom Kaneshige

Social Media Policy Offers Dos and Don’ts for Employees

Nov 05, 20135 mins
CareersSocial Networking Apps

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.

Tips for Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

Micro-blogging tips are a little more straightforward, such as understanding that tweets can become part of your permanent record and employees shouldn’t comment on every single post lest followers see them as some sort of Big Brother.

Employees should give credit to people who retweet their messages, while avoiding too much marketing hype, which will turn off followers. “Don’t make a professional account too personal, but don’t lack personal touch either,” the policy says.

On Facebook, employees should visit other Xerox pages regularly and engage with the content. “By commenting or clicking ‘like’ on postings, your friends see your activity in their newsfeeds and, as a result, may become a fan of other Xerox-related pages,” the policy says.

When shooting video for YouTube, employees shouldn’t post personal information about themselves or others. The videos should have the same tone of voice, look-and-feel as other Xerox videos. Titles should have searchable keywords, and videos need to be placed in similar categories (probably next to competitors’ videos), so that videos can be found. Videos should have catchy descriptions, as well as a link back to the Xerox website.

Lastly, keep them short. “Be mindful of appropriate video length,” the policy says. “Effective videos can be as short as 30 seconds. The longer a video, the tougher it is to keep viewers engaged.”

What If Your Job Doesn’t Involve Social Media?

Employees who work with social media as part of their jobs can learn the basic rules from policies such as Xerox’s, but policies need to go further both in depth and breadth. Perhaps a social media policy needs to be created for all employees regardless of job function.

As the line between work life and social life, physical world and digital world increasingly blurs, employers and employees need to know what they can and cannot do with social media — and, of course, how to use social media effectively.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at