I Never Thought I Needed
A Social Media Policy Until This Happened
Here’s The Story
It was the calm before the storm on a slow winter morning, and I was alerted to the fact that we needed window washer fluid. So I sent one of the guys down to the auto parts store to get a couple of cases. About 30 minutes later, he called and said that there was a problem with our account.
It was towards the end of the month, and since we had already charged a lot during the month, we were now over our spending limit.
Now, this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Some months we would charge only maybe $500, but at other times we might go well over the $1600 limit I had set.
So I paid the bill, and we got what we needed. No big deal…I thought.
But Here’s What Happened Next
About 30 minutes later, I received a text from one of my competitors. He said that I needed to take a look at what was posted on Facebook.
It turned out that the driver who was sent to get the washer fluid put a post on Facebook saying that we hadn’t paid our bill.
So Here’s What I Did
I admit it ruffled my feathers. This was one of my most trusted tow truck operators. But I calmed down and asked him about it, and he graciously apologized and removed the post. Still…I felt like I’d been betrayed.
But This Is What I Learned
It turns out…this kind of thing happens everywhere.
Look At This…
In 2013 a Taco Bell employee took a photo of himself licking a stack of taco shells, destined for the production line…and posted it on Facebook.
In 2009 a Domino’s Pizza employee posted a YouTube video showing himself spitting in the food and shoving cheese up his nose. This caused the pizza chain’s revenues to slip 1 to 2 percent for a short period.
And in Tucson Arizona, a reporter, frustrated by the lack of news to cover, tweeted, “What??? No overnight homicide…You’re slacking Tucson.”
He was let go.
This Is Horrible, But You Have More Than Social Media To Worry About
It’s not just abusive social media that can harm your business. If you provide email accounts to your employees and some of those messages contain any sexually explicit, obscene, profane, and/or crude language, you may be setting yourself up for a suit. If you provide computers or tablets and don’t have policies that cover what’s acceptable with regards to sites that are off-limits and the installation of apps and software…not only could you be jeopardizing your computer systems, but you could be incurring more risk than you know.
What Does All This Mean?
If you don’t have policies in place that inform your employees of your positions on these possibly inflammatory and discriminative items and your integrity is ever called into question… you may be facing an uphill battle.
But There’s A Catch…And You May Be asking?
This is first amendment stuff, right? And you can’t limit free speech by controlling what your employees say and post and what sites they visit. Can you?
To A Certain Extent, You Are Right; You Can’t…But!
The answer is…If you’re an employer, there’s a thin line between what’s right and wrong.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says that “…Workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether the discussion takes place at the office or on Facebook.” And…you can’t implement policies if “…those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.” But there are other measures you can put into place.
Here’s What You Can Control
With regards to company-owned email, equipment, and websites, the employer has the right to prescribe how they’re used and what’s acceptable. And you can legally state that employees should have no unreasonable expectations of privacy, they should refrain from sexually explicit, abusive language, and that the consequences for violation can include termination.
But When It Comes To Social Media, Be Careful
If your goal is to minimize the embarrassment or harm that an employee can cause your company using social media, but you inadvertently limit their ability to communicate with one another in an attempt to create a better work environment, you are stepping outside of what the NLRB says is acceptable.
1. Open Door Policy
To begin with, you should have an open-door policy that invites employees to make suggestions, ask questions, and have input in your business. Doing this can help you avoid many of the complaints that might end up online.
2. Educate Employees About The Consequences of Negative Comments
Secondly, you should create a policy with the intention of not only informing your employees of what is and isn’t acceptable. But also include language that alerts them to the fact that the posting of negative items, with regards to themselves or your company, could cause them to be harmed as well. Not by way of a threat of repercussions by the company, but as a result of a negative image which could lead to lowered sales for the company. Which might directly affect their continued employment.
3. Alert Them To Negative Consequences Beyond Their Employment With Your Company
And lastly, you could make your employees aware that more than 52% of employers now check a potential employee’s social media before making a hiring decision. And that negative items could threaten any future employment opportunities.
Here’s An Excerpt From A Good Example Of A Social Media Policy
“Employees are responsible for the content they post online, whether posted during or outside of work hours. Online conduct that adversely affects The Towing Company’s legitimate business interests or the interests of its employees, customers, vendors, or other business partners may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination. Without written authorization from management, employees do not have authority or permission to communicate online for or on behalf of The Towing Company.”
Controlling what’s said about your business, your customers and your employees online may seem like an insurmountable battle. But if you approach it with thoughtfulness and diplomacy, and don’t take it personal…you stand a better chance of getting the results you’re looking for.
This is an excellent post and a very timely one for my company as we dive into the world of Social Media. Thanks.
Yes the creation of a social media policy can be a bit difficult. As an employer you want to limit any negative fallout from what employees post on social media about your business, but you don’t want to be so restrictive that you’re violating their rights. I know you don’t have to abide by the NLRB in Canada, but I’m sure there’s something similar. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
This is great and much needed. Sometimes with social media it can feel like users are just having a conversation with friends- which is far from the case. A clear policy for everyone serves as a reminder that everything on the internet can be seen by everyone. I’m in no way supporting the Tucson reporter but I’m sure he isn’t the first journalist to make a joke like that. However, everything changes when you post it for the world to see. Thanks for putting this together.
Mike thanks for your comments. If you don’t have some sort of Social Media policy in place you’re setting yourself up for the possibility of trouble down the road. Thanks again