Why Does a Company Need an Employee Social Media Policy?

April 25, 2023

Your company probably uses social media in some way – and your employees definitely do.

When the two intersect, your brand can benefit tremendously, but only if employees use social media the right way.

Unfortunately, while it’s not uncommon for employees to believe that their personal social media accounts are separate from their professional life, that’s not always the case – and when it isn’t, the company’s reputation can be damaged (and the company itself can face legal and regulatory liability).

First, the bad news: It’s not possible to completely eliminate this risk. The good news: with an employee social media policy, you can not only mitigate the risk of inappropriate employee social media use, but also turn their online activity into a powerful and positive experience for the company and its people.

Here’s how and why.

What an Employee Social Policy Actually Means

A social media policy is an outline of what’s expected for employees when it comes to how they use their social media accounts. It serves two broad purposes:

  1. Informing employees about how their actions can affect not only themselves, but the company; and
  2. Clearly and unambiguously defining what is and isn’t allowed.

Both are essential, because if your policy is merely a list of do’s and don’ts, but doesn’t have the reasoning behind why the policy is what it is, then employees are less likely to comply.

Some (but not all) of the behaviors a policy is designed to mitigate include sharing confidential information – like company IP – making discriminatory comments, being sexually explicit, speaking negatively about the company or other employees, harassing or cyber-stalking others, or anything that can violate regulations or laws.

In one instance, Orange County, California was forced to make a $820,000 payment to a former disabled employee who was harassed by his co-workers due to his disability in the comments section of an online blog. Under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, the county failed to prevent harassment and disability discrimination. 

In other instances, healthcare providers have run afoul of HIPAA when their employees intentionally or unintentionally shared confidential health information about patients through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. 

The risk is too great to a company for it to not have a social media policy in place. But the reasons aren’t just to prevent negative outcomes; you can use your policy to harness social media for good, too.

The Benefits of an Employee Social Media Policy

Here are several reasons organizations should adopt a social media policy.

Create brand advocates

Social media policies allow you to unlock all the benefits of employee advocacy, without putting your brand credibility at risk.

When your employees post about the organization online, it can increase brand awareness, establish thought leadership and drive qualified leads. Along with helping social selling, employee posts can support social recruiting efforts, attracting top talent to your company.

Your social media policy is a critical advocacy tool, giving your employees the guidance they need to represent your brand accurately within social networks.

Promote DEI

Brand diversity in social media is more important than ever. Company alignment with personal values is 74% more important to consumers than it was in 2021, so brands need to show and tell audiences what the company values – and there’s no better way to do it than using social media.

Brands can use social media to amplify diverse voices, prioritize representation, and attract top talent from marginalized communities. An inclusive social media policy will empower and encourage voices from all backgrounds to advocate for the brand and impress not just candidates and employees, but also consumers themselves.

Maintain a consistent brand identity

To be effective, a brand identity has to be consistent. Consumers need to encounter the same core messages and values whenever they interact with the brand.

But without a policy in place, a brand can become diluted and misrepresented.

A social media policy ensures that whenever someone interacts with your company online, either through a brand channel or an employee, they get the same consistent experience. 

Consistency develops a more reliable, trustworthy identity for your company, turning customers into loyal fans and ambassadors. 

Minimize legal action against your brand

As we shared earlier, social media use can run afoul of regulations that govern everything from privacy and intellectual property to criminal acts. A well-made social media policy can help protect the company from potential lawsuits that can impact a business even if the company is ultimately vindicated, through negative attention.

Consult with your legal counsel and outline a list of do’s and don’ts for the company to follow. These rules of thumb will help ensure the organization and contractors are compliant with laws, reducing the risk of legal action against the company.

Protect your brand from privacy and security risks

There are many privacy and security risks involved with using social media. The larger your team is, the larger those risks become. 

Why? Because while hackers have sophisticated means of attacking and compromising your systems, they don’t need fancy software to exploit your largest vulnerability: your people.

A good social media policy combined with security protocols will protect your accounts against hacking, phishing and fraud accounts that use social engineering to gather credentials (like passwords), upload malware, and find ways to access internal systems.

And since social media is a common resource for scammers and criminals, it’s imperative your social media policy includes guidelines that protect both your employees and company. 

The first line of defense is awareness. Whether it’s defending against phishing scams or ransomware attacks, make sure that everyone in your organization knows what threats exist and how to avoid them.

Prevent a public relations crisis

At one point or another, a company will encounter a potential public relations snafu. Whether it’s major or minor, a crisis is inevitable – but many organizations make the mistake of waiting until they’ve faced a public relations disaster to put a policy in place. 

By then, it’s too late, and damage will already have occurred.

Fortunately, it’s easy to be proactive by implementing a strategy in advance to outline how to respond and when to take action.

Make sure that your social media crisis plan aligns with your social media policy. For example, the policy can designate which teams are responsible for handling a PR crisis, or can even provide boilerplate templates that can be quickly modified and distributed through social channels.

At the end of the day, social media can’t be ignored. Even if a company doesn’t plan on using social itself, it must face the reality: its employees are using social and will eventually compromise a company’s brand if left alone.

Take the initiative and create a comprehensive social media policy, and reap the benefits while mitigating the risks.