A bad review or comment on social media platforms can quickly go viral. It is also nearly impossible to erase those less than desirable comments in most cases. This content can cause expensive lingering consequences for companies of all sizes. It can be even more devastating if it is posted by an employee–just look at the recent open letter to Yelp. Strategic thinking and a proactive approach is critical to navigate these sticky situations. Four things companies need to know when developing and implementing social media policies are:

 

1. Establish the Ground Rules

 

 

Social media policies have become so common that organizations are expected to have one. There may be no legal requirement to do so yet, but the absence of one certainly makes it difficult to defend the organization in the many types of legal action that arise when humans act like humans. Think about the following when developing or updating the policies:

 

 

  • Define the boundaries. Explicitly spell out the prohibited uses of social media in the workplace.
  • Designate a point person for all media inquiries. The policy should cover all methods for contact by press including social media.
  • Give the green light. Policies should not only say what is prohibited, but also provide guidance on what is permissible. This should also include appropriate uses of company equipment when doing the right thing.
  • Set expectations for etiquette. Remind employees about the golden rule and how is applies in person and online.

 

 

2. Plan for Consistent Enforcement

 

 

One of the biggest mistakes is in the execution of the carefully drafted policy. Failing to implement a social media policy properly can cause more problems than having no policy at all. A plan for implementation and execution should include:

 

 

  • Training employees. Straightforward session to cover the rules and make sure to obtain a written acknowledgment from each participant.
  • Equipping managers. These are the people on the front line. Give them the tools and training to ensure they can succeed in upholding the goals of the policy.
  • Implementing an enforcement process. Involve HR and communicate (repeatedly) to the organization what to do when an issue is detected.
  • Consistency. Leaving gaps in enforcement could open the door to discrimination or disparate treatment claims against the company. Shut the door with consistent enforcement or update the policy to reflect reality.

 

 

3. Apply Extra Caution with Collective Bargaining

 

 

Collective bargaining agreements create an entirely different complexity to social media policies and enforcement. There is a greater level of protection for speech made by employees in any platform covered by these agreements. This level of protection can start during the organizing process–well before it is formalized. Companies need to proceed with extreme caution when enforcing policies where employees may be trying to organize into unions. The wrong steps here can be expensive and create complicated problems. Bottom line, tread lightly and consult with counsel.

 

 

4. Advocacy Programs as the Next Frontier

 

 

Social media marketing can be expensive. Investing a substantial amount of money to build a following often proves challenging as it does not transfer to the constantly emerging hot platforms (i.e. Facebook to Snapchat). As a result, there are a number of companies that are moving to social media advocacy programs. This is not for every organization and implementation can involve a number of legal pitfalls. However, here are some organizations that have been successful in converting employees into “free” (but powerful) brand ambassadors:

 

 

  • Dell. Nearly 10,000 employees have been trained and they now have robust business lines providing social media consultation as a result of their advocacy program.
  • IBM Voices. An advanced platform with vast thought leadership content has emerged as a result of their program. Check it out here.
  • Zappos. Responsive, comprehensive, and the CEO is now one of the most followed people. Check out the Zappos approach here.