Top Ten Tips on creating a social media strategy for staff

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The article first appeared as part of the pro.manchester SME club tips on the 13th September. The tips were posted by Dan Rubin from Ward Hadaway. Lots of comment was generated by the comments on LinkedIn not least the question of who’s connections are they and can you take them with you when you leave?

The explosion in the use of social media presents huge opportunities for business. With those opportunities come challenges – one of which is how do employers ensure appropriate use of social media by employees both in the workplace and outside? Clearly, what an employee does at work is subject to an employer’s control. However, an employee’s private use of social media such as twitter or facebook can expose the employer to risk or damage its reputation. For example, an employee may use social media to make derogatory comments about their employer or to bully and harass a fellow employee. As such, the emergence of social media raises important considerations for employers and in this article we set out our top 10 tips:

1. Decide what is permitted
Employers need to determine what use of social media in the workplace is permitted. While a blanket ban is one potential response, it is often not practical or realistic and is likely to result in lower employee morale and non-compliance. A more common approach is to allow use of social media for business purposes (for example linkedin) and occasional personal use during breaks.

2. Begin your policy
Once you have determined what level of use is permitted, put in place a social media policy. This should make clear a number of key points including:
• Social media activity in the workplace is not private and that employees can be disciplined for any use of social media that breaches the policy
• Social media activity outside of the workplace that is harmful to the business or breaches the social media policy (or any of the employer’s other policies) can also result in disciplinary action
• The business has the right to monitor any use of social media on its IT system
• Set out what constitutes inappropriate use of social media both inside and outside the workplace.
We look at these key points in more detail below.

3. Consider your stance on bullying
The social media policy should make it clear that any harassment or bullying of employees using social media is unacceptable and will result in disciplinary action. This is the case whether the bullying or harassment takes place at work or outside of the workplace.

Employers should not disregard conduct such as bullying simply because it occurs outside the workplace. Further, doing so may expose the employer to the risk of employment claims from the bullied employee.

4. Protect your brand
Employers should make it clear how seriously they treat brand reputation. There should be a prohibition on negative comments about the business, its employees, customers, suppliers and competitors. Make it clear that any breach of this may result in disciplinary action.

5. Confidentiality
The social media policy should also prohibit any use or disclosure of any of the employer’s (or its customers’) confidential information via social media. Further, employees should not disclose any personal information about a colleague or work contact on social media as this may result in a breach of the Data Protection Act. Again, employees should be warned that any failure to adhere to these rules may result in disciplinary action.

6. Bringing your company into disrepute
Make it clear that any conduct which would bring the business into disrepute or affects the employee performing his role is unacceptable and may result in disciplinary action. This applies regardless of whether the offending conduct takes place inside or outside the workplace. As such, this would cover an employee who makes racist comments on twitter which are unconnected to his employment but which may damage the reputation of the employer.

7. Managing connections
Consider whether employees are banned from adding business contacts to personal social networking sites (such as Facebook and LinkedIn). The reason for this is that, if an employee leaves your employment, he or she will have the contact details of these business contacts via their personal social media account.

8. Internal privacy
The social media policy should inform employees that any use of social media using the employer’s IT system can be monitored by the employer and that they should have no expectation of privacy when using social media at work. Employers should also conduct regular monitoring to ensure that the social media policy is being complied with.

9. External privacy
Make it clear that comments made on any social media site should be treated as public, rather than private – regardless of the user’s privacy settings. Further, employees should not make any reference to the name of the employer unless necessary for business purposes (such as when using LinkedIn).

10. Training
Provide training to employees on (a) how social media can be used to market the business or create business and (b) how mis-use of social media can damage the reputation of the business and expose it to risk. Ensure that employees are aware of what is expected of them when they use social media both inside and outside of work.

About the Author

  • Dr John Ashcroft

    John Ashcroft is a visiting professor at Manchester University and Executive in residence at Manchester Business School, specializing in Economics Corporate Strategy and Social Media. Author of the Saturday Economist, The Apple Case Study and The Sunday Times and Croissants www.johnashcroft.co.uk. John is Chief Executive of pro.manchester, a Director of Marketing Manchester, a member of the GM Chamber of Commerce Council and the AGMA Business Leadership Council.

    Web: http://www.johnashcroft.co.uk/

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10 thoughts on “Top Ten Tips on creating a social media strategy for staff

  1. “7. Managing connections
    Consider whether employees are banned from adding business contacts to personal social networking sites (such as facebook and linkedin). The reason for this is that, if an employee leaves your employment, he or she will have the contact details of these business contacts via their personal social media account.”

    Surely not? I am looking it at from a personal perspective, as well as from a social media management perspective and I genuinely don’t understand how this could be enforceable on either LinkedIn and Facebook. And aside from enforceable I can’t see how it is ethical for Facebook. How can an employer dictate who employees can ‘befriend’? I don’t see how that can be classed as employers’ confidential information.

    As a business we try to keep up to speed with the ever changing legal landscape around social media for our clients and we devise and manage their policies as well as their strategy and content. I want to make sure we are giving them the correct information, but as I said I believe this is contentious – is there a precedent?

    • I’m not sure this is as contentious as you think. Why should an employee be allowed to take an employer’s confidential information (i.e. contact details of customers) and place it on his or her personal website?

      If an employer wants an employee to use sites like LinkedIn they need to agree with the employee that, on leaving the business, any contacts that the employee has made as a result of his employment with the business are removed.

      Ultimately, it’s about ensuring that any confidential information obtained by an employee during the course of their employment remains the property of the employer. Dan

  2. I have to say I fully agree with Deborah with the point that companies shouldn’t restrict who employees connect with but can also see John’s point on keeping confidential information within a company.

    It really comes down once again to common sense and trust, but I do think companies would be pretty powerless to do much about it if they did. It’s just the modern day equivalent of taking an address book from your desk.

    However on the case of precedents, in America PhoneDog sued their ex editor Noah Kravitz for $340,000 after he left the company based on his Twitter account & followers. Even though the account was his personal one they still claimed that as his bio mentioned the company and his role with them that he followers should be transferred to them as his position was what led to him being followed.
    The amount was based on $2.50 a month per follower for eight months, I still don’t think it has been settled but it shows how far companies will go.

  3. The courts have for sometime recognised that personal social media sites can be abused by employees looking to harvest their employer’s confidential information. For example, in 2008, the High Court ordered an employee to hand over his Linkedin contacts to his former employer.

    What we are suggesting is prevention of this risk (i.e. by preventing the employee accepting business contacts on Linkedin) or giving the employer the contractual right of ownership over those contacts arising from the employee’s employment.

    I look at it like this. If I go to a networking event as part of my job and meet a contact who gives me his business card, that information belongs to my employer. If that contact then tries to become LinkedIn with me – why should I have ownership of those contact details? I’ve met the person in the course of my duties for my employer. The difficulty for employers is that LinkedIn states that all information on a LinkedIn account belongs to the account holder (i.e. the employee). As such, our advice is that employers should ensure their contractual arrangements with employees transfer the ownership of those LinkedIn contacts, which arise in the ordinary course of employment, to the employer.

    Given the interest the article has generated, I plan to conduct a seminar on social media issues for employers – probably in January as we have already publicised our seminars until then.

    Kind regards

    Dan

    • Hi Dan,
      Can this be correct, it sounds a bit strange to me?
      I look at it like this. If I go to a networking event as part of my job and meet a contact who gives me his business card, that information belongs to my employer.

      Is that really the case, surely you then have to define “networking event”. A lunch, evening dinner, invitation to a football match, a casual drink in the pub? Someone you may meet socially who recognises or in whom you recognise a business opportunity.

      The card data may or perhaps should be included in a corporate database perhaps but should the card be handed over and later destroyed?
      JKA

      • Hi John,

        Whether it belongs to your employer depends on whether you have met the contact in the course of your employment. If you go to a networking event paid for by your employer (or in work time) then the contact details belong to the employer. If you go to the pub on a Friday night and are given someone’s business card, that’s likely to be yours.

        The key question to ask is when you obtained this information were you acting in the course of your employment?

        Dan

        • Hi Dan,
          Let me get this straight, if I go to a networking event, that is free, in my own time, not wearing (or possibly wearing) a name badge (which may or may not include company details (as an explanation of who I am)), I get to keep the business cards? J

          • Hi John,

            If you go to a networking event in your own time and not in the course of your employment , the contact details will be yours.

            If you go back to my article, I said that employers may want to stop employees putting business contacts onto LinkedIn. To use your example, if you go to a networking event in your own time and not in the course of your employment, meet an individual who then sends you an invite on LinkedIn – you would be allowed to accept this invite as it is not a contact arising out of your employment.

            Dan

  4. It’s interesting how social media has brought an age old “problem” to the forefront. Of course, employees have always “harvested” their contacts when leaving companies. How could they not do so. Your best contacts are also friends. Do you somehow wipe them from your brain when you leave? Refuse to speak to them again.

    In sensible companies, you understand that this is going to happen. You protect yourself legally with restrictive covenants from employees taking clients with them or poachign them soon after.

    But to claim ownership of an employee’s little black book. Or even more ludicrously, prevent them from putting business contacts into their own Linkedin account (thus making it completely useless for the employee to use to help the business). Wow – that’s the ultimate cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    As a talented employee, why on earth would you work for a company with that sort of policy in place? Here’s a better idea for those companies: be great places to work. Build community and spirit and be a place your employees don’t want to leave. That way you don’t have to worry about them harvesting your information.

    And for me, it reminds why I said many years ago that I wouldn’t work for anyone again. People hire me to do great work for them. But my contacts remain my own property.

    – Ian

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