5 Non-Negotiable Provisions for Your Social-Media Policy

Less than one-third of U.S. employers have a social-media policy, according to Manpower in its recent study, Social Networks vs. Management? Harness the Power of Social Media. Not that this is a surprise.  Frankly, I’m more surprised when an employer actually does have a social-media policy in place. The recently published regulations of the FTC regarding employee endorsements and social-media sites may prompt some employers to get working on that policy. And, if that’s the case or if you’re considering a social-media policy for any other reason, here are some tips to help you on your way.

Before You Draft

There are three steps that must be completed before you can get to the heart of it and start to collaborate on the actual content of your policy. I’ve written about these steps before, so I’ll just touch on them here.

First, you have to educate the decision makers about what social media is all about. Likely, this means you’ll need to get at least some of the C-Suite to participate in social media to some degree. A lot of hand-holding is both appropriate and effective. Don’t expect executives to squeeze time into their already crammed schedules to learn about social media just for the heck of it. Work with them by doing the legwork for them. Collect relevant blog posts and send them to the decision maker once a week. Or monitor Twitter for mentions of the company’s name and provide those as part of your regular update. Anything to show them that social media is relevant.

Before putting pen to paper, employers should start with the 3 most important questions: Who, What, and Why. I’ve discussed these in more detail in an earlier post (See Social Media Is Here to Stay: Time to start that social-media policy). Generally, these questions address the following:

First, who will be regulated by the policy—i.e., will certain job titles or departments be excluded altogether or subject to less restrictions?

Second, what will be regulated—will all online activity be subject to the policy or only when the employee somehow associates himself with your organization (for example, by using his company e-mail account in his Twitter profile).

Third, why are you writing a policy in the first place? Is it to encourage employees to get out there and embrace social media, hopefully with some resulting benefits returning to the employer? Or are you trying to regulate online use of social-networking sites because productivity has become an issue? There are infinite variations of those two choices and your organization needs to settle on one before you start hashing out actual policy provisions.


Regardless of what types of activity you decide to regulate with the policy and regardless of who will be subject to the policy’s provisions, there are certain standards that can be applied universally. I call these the “non-negotiables” of social-media use. Truthfully, many are likely to already exist within other company policies, such as an anti-harassment, confidentiality, or privacy policy. But not all of them. And not in one single policy. Here are some of what I consider to be “must-have” prohibitions or restrictions when it comes to employees’ use of social media, a set of “social-media principles,” if you will.

Keep Confidential Information Confidential. Company information should not be shared outside the company. Similarly, any activities that occur at the Company’s facilities should not be shared outside the company. Do not post pictures of Company events or of the interior of the Company’s facilities without express authorization. Do not share any information about clients or customers and do not identify any clients or customers by name or otherwise.

Be Nice. Do not post derogatory, defamatory, or inflammatory content about others for any reason. Disagreeing with another person’s opinions or actions is a legitimate form of expression. But express your disagreement in an intellectual and rational way supported by facts and references and free of any overt or underlying nastiness or hostility. Stay calm even if others post information about you or the Company that is untrue.

Do Not Break the Law. Do not engage in illegal or unlawful activities—at work or at any time. Do not publish pictures or other information about your participation in illegal activities. Similarly, do not publish anything that infers or implies that you are engaging in illegal conduct.

Protect Privacy Rights (of Yourself and of Others). Be very cautious about the ways in which you share personal or private information about yourself with others online. Assume that your coworkers and clients wish to maintain their privacy, as well. Do not post pictures of coworkers without their express permission. Do not share details of others’ personal lives online unless they’ve expressly authorized you to do so. Assume that anything and everything you post online will stay online forever, for anyone to see. If that makes you think twice about posting the information, then don’t.

Standards of Conduct Still Apply. Any conduct that would be grounds for dismissal if performed at work will be grounds for dismissal if performed online. Just as the Company does not tolerate use of race-, religion-, or gender-based slurs in the workplace, an employee’s use of such slurs in cyberspace will be grounds for immediate termination. Similarly, just as workplace harassment will not be tolerated, harassing behavior that is conducted online will not be tolerated. Threats of violence towards others, like hate-based language and harassment, is grounds for termination.

See these earlier posts for more help with your social-media policy:

3 Reasons Why Employers Don’t Have a Social-Networking Policy

The 3 Principles for Social Media:  How to Be a Good Online Citizen

Sample Social-Media Guidelines

Social Media Is Here to Stay: Time to Start that Workplace Policy

Sample Social-Media Policy Ideas

Social Media Policies: What about my “friends”?

Friends Without Borders: State Off-Duty Conduct Laws and Facebook-Friending Policies

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