As many small businesses reach out to new audiences through social media, you should think about drafting an effective social media policy before jumping in. Social media sites may open up not only stronger customer relationships and new marketing opportunities, but also additional business risks for you and your business. Before creating a social media policy, it is important to consider your business needs and responsibilities as well as input from your employees. Before you or your employees post or tweet, here are several key considerations to think about.
- Determine Appropriate Employee Access to Social Media. It is important to decide whether or not employees will be allowed to access social media sites using company computers during work hours. Business owners may decide to block employee access to social media during work hours and in work areas to increase productivity and to avoid personal distractions. In other instances, a company may allow employees to engage in social media activities for business purposes, such as announcing special discounts or sales on a business’s Facebook page or other social media profile. Your company needs to determine when it is appropriate and legal to block social media access in the workplace, what purposes for access may be permissible, and what disciplinary actions might be taken against offending employees.
- Act in Compliance with Relevant State and Federal Labor Laws. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released a 2012 report on employer social media policies for both union and non-union workplaces. It warned employers not to unduly restrict protected employee speech or employee ability to discuss and connect with co-workers about the terms and conditions of their employment on social media sites. For example, employees have the right to concerted action and may criticize company work conditions and wages on social media at work during non-work hours, such as a work break, and in non-work areas, such as a lunch room. Therefore, a complete ban on social media access at work would not be legal under federal labor laws. Other states are also proposing laws to prevent employers from asking employees and job applicants for access to their social media accounts. Work with an employment lawyer to navigate relevant federal and state labor laws and their application to social media.
- Show Respect for Intellectual Property Rights. When using social media to promote your business, be careful to respect the intellectual property rights of third parties. For example, if you are a clothing boutique and wish to show snapshots of a recent shipment of designer jeans, be sure to obtain that third party’s written approval before posting these items on your social media site. Your policy may also not broadly prohibit employee use of your intellectual property, such as your company logo, which might be protected under the fair use exemption or other federal laws.
- Make Proper Disclosures on Social Media Sites. Promoting your product or service through social media may also require certain disclosures under the Federal Trade Commission’s 2009 revised Endorsement Guides. These Guides are not law, but the FTC’s interpretation of existing statutes and regulations. The Guides are intended to provide transparency to consumers over whether or not postings are sponsored speech or individual opinions, unfettered by material connections to a company. For example, if you ask employees to promote your business on their personal blogs or web pages, the employee must disclose their employment status with your company. Similarly, any marketing campaigns in which your business offers cash, commissions, free products or services, or other material connections in exchange for social media postings must contain a disclosure identifying its sponsored nature. The FTC expects companies to adopt a social media policy, to train its employees and third parties on that policy and to monitor compliance with that policy. For more social media examples, check out videos and text on the FTC’s Endorsement Guides.
- Integrate Your Social Media Policy into Existing Business Policies. If your company already has a computer and Internet usage policy, then include social media as part of that policy. In addition, make it clear that employee use of social media should also comport with other existing company policies such as unlawful discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, and insider trading. Your social media policy should be part of your regular training program for new and current employees.
While connecting with customers and employees on social media may have many benefits, you need to be aware of the risks inherent in these kinds of online interactions. Take a look at what other companies are doing in their social media policies on Social Media Governance’s database. This area of law is still in flux so also consult with an experienced employment law attorney to help you draft your policy and be prepared to amend it as laws change.