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Social Media Policies: What Should They Say?

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I have repeatedly warned everyone to consider the value of having a social media policy.   You need to think about what your employees and colleagues are saying in your name.  You have to consider what type of social media engagement they(and you!) are permitted to engage in on the job.  You need to think about your brand, about content.  

Whew — you’re thinking — that’s a lot.  And it is.  But that shouldn’t stop you from doing it, and not because some law or regulation requires it.  Rather, you need to think about how the world engages with you through social media, and how you intend to engage with the world.  It’s a fairly broad proposition, and it has frozen the collective consciousness of folks around the world who have refrained, en masse, from actually creating social media policies (as opposed to talking about them, of course!)

So — taking a page from some of the big players that have taken the big step and crafted a social media policy — let’s think about (a non-exhaustive list!) of some of the things that you should consider when creating a social media policy.

  1. EMPLOYEE USE: YES OR NO? Do you want your employees and colleagues using social media at work?  This is, obviously, quite controversial.  There are some who believe that the only proper approach to social media in the workplace is to ban it.  Others think that companies are shooting themselves in the foot bycutting off their personnel from valuable communication tools.  In truth, the answer is likely to vary from company to company, and perhaps even within companies.  Rather than assume a  “one size fits all” solution, you need to work with counsel to determine what, if any, restrictions are appropriate.  Are you in the securities industry? FINRA may have some guidance for you, and the optimal policy will differ from, say, that of Zynga.
  2. WHAT ARE YOUR EMPLOYEES AND COLLEGUES ALLOWED TO SAY? An obvious follow-up to the question of employee use is what, exactly, they are allowed to say, and whether the company should take a position on what they do on their spare time in their own name.
  3. WHAT SHOULD THE COMPANY “DO” WITH THINGS IT LEARNS THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA?  This is a bigger problem than it may initially appear — so much so that I will also discuss this at a later date in greater detail.  But think about it: You and your colleagues are going to learn all sorts of things from social media: you may learn about product defects.  You may learn about dangerous drug interactions.  You may learn that one of your colleagues is a racist.  You may learn that one of your colleagues is engaging in price fixing.  You may learn that one of your subordinates is pregnant.  You may discover that one of your products needs to be recalled.  The list is endless — and can create almost endless forms of liability.  Again, there is no universal solution to a complex problem — but the problem calls for some serious soul searching in order to determine how far this should actually be pushed.
  4. WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR USING CONTENT ON YOUR SITE? If your social media presence is worth even a fraction of the time it will take to do it right, there will be content.  Hopefuly, valuable content.  Who owns it?  Do you have the rights to it?  What type of process do you have in place? Do you need?
  5. IS THERE REGULATED ACTIVITY ON MY SITE? Are there sweepstakes or contests as part of my social media strategy? Coupons? Rebates? Financing offers? Am I marketing to minors? Am I marketing to folks in other countries?  Just because you’re on the Internet doesn’t mean that the law stops applying to your activities — and in some cases that regulation becomes more complicated than it would have been if you simply had a store.

Of course, this is just a taste, but should inspire you to consider whether your failure to have a social media policy is also a lost opportunity for valuable self-reflection.  A social media policy is not merely something to have so that some random regulator will be happy.  Instead, it is a critical tool for understanding how you can and should interact with a powerful new medium of expression.