Does your organisation have a social media policy? If not, your organisation and franchisees may be facing of a host of legal risks.
In a 2011 decision, Fair Work Australia ordered Linfox to re-employ a sacked worker despite him publishing a rant on Facebook that the company believed amounted to racial discrimination and sexual harassment.
On the flip side, Good Guys franchise owner, Troy Williams successfully defended a claim of wrongful dismissal that started with a Facebook post that threatened physical harm to members of his staff.
The difference? The Good Guys had a communications policy. Linfox didn’t. Good Guys employees had received training about their policy. Linfox didn’t.
But what is the best way to develop a social media policy?
As the details of these cases show, there are several issues to take into account. These issues can be simplified down to 9 Cs that will help you create a great social media policy.
1. Clarify your intentions.
What is your position on the ownership of social media profiles? Many recruitment firms believe that online business networks are the property of the firm. The rationale? As the employee has developed their networks during working hours the contacts are therefore the property of the company. If you’re going to allow people to use social networking sites during working hours it’s worth taking the time to clarify who owns the contacts in those social networks.
You should also clarify the intent of your social media policy. Do you want to empower people to use social networking more or stop people from causing your business harm? Is it a combination of both? Whatever the answer, it makes sense to clarify your intentions from the start.
Which job roles have your consent to use social media during work hours? Let’s face it, no-one wants people wasting time on Facebook when they could be doing more productive tasks. While you’re answering these questions, ask yourself which job roles include the consent to act as a spokesperson for your organisation. Allowing people to act as your spokesperson without your authority poses significant legal risks, especially when things get heated.
How are your employees permitted to publicise their connection with your organisation? Where an employee publicises no connection, the chances of them falling foul of your policy is negligible. On the other hand people who mention your organisation as their employer on Facebook, post their property listings to Twitter and participate in group discussions on LinkedIn pose a significantly higher risk to your organisation.
Your policy should make it clear that creating a link between a social media profile and your organisation implies acknowledgement that all of the employee’s online activities may be governed by your policy.
Your policy should also alert employees to the ways in which a connection can be created that may not initially be obvious. This might include friending fellow employees, publishing photos in which the employee is wearing your corporate uniform and alluding to a work-related event in a status update.
A good social media policy will outline clear expectations about what and how employees can communicate online.
First, the policy should make it clear who can speak on behalf of the organisation and the limits of that permission. For example, sales reps may be given authority to publish listings and make statements about properties for sale but not be permitted to express opinions on online news sites where those opinions may be construed as being that of their employer.
Related to this, it’s worth spelling out what to do if the employee becomes aware of a complaint or an incident of bullying or harassment. It’s important that everyone knows what to do in these situations so they don’t turn into a PR disaster that could harm your brand.
Second, your policy should set out minimum online communication standards. Those standards are yours to create and might include a requirement to be transparent, to communicate in a civil manner and advice on avoiding SMS-style abbreviations and profanity.
Third, your policy should outline the ways in which online communication differs from offline. Employees who use social media professionally should be encouraged to understand the nuances and etiquette expected on the various social media platforms.
All social media policies, no matter how informal, should include prohibitions against bullying, harassment, and discrimination. More positively, employees should be encouraged to maintain a standard of online conduct that reflects the values of your brand and the informality of online social spaces.
Your social media policy should make clear what content employees are allowed to share on their personal profiles. It should also address the content that can be posted to your organisation’s social media assets. For example, some organisations welcome their agents posting links to their competitors’ content, in others this is strictly off limits.
You should also make clear your policy on copyright infringements. Were one of your agents to publish material without permission or the correct attribution your organisation could be at risk of being sued for breaching copyright.
A good social media policy will highlight the importance of complying with consumer protection legislation, particularly that which governs the activities of real estate agents. You should ensure that Facebook pages started by sales reps don’t mislead people into thinking the page is a real estate agency.
8. Confidentiality and privacy.
Your social media policy should emphasise the importance of client confidentiality and privacy. A status update could inadvertently telegraph the desperate plight of a seller, placing them at a disadvantage in a negotiation.
It’s also important that staff who attend property inspections alone are aware of the risks posed by open Facebook privacy settings.
All social media policies should clarify the consequences of breaching the policy. Not every breach of your social media policy will warrant disciplinary action and yet some breaches may be cause for instant dismissal.
What steps have you taken to develop a social media policy for your organisation?
Image by Deirdre via Flickr.