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What to Consider When Creating a Social Media Policy

Most individuals aren't waiting until they leave the office to check their favorite social media platforms and post updates - they're engaging with social channels throughout the day, thanks to ever-prevalent technology. For their superiors, this is an all-too-common reality for employees across generations who can't avoid the temptation of updating their statuses and tweeting. In fact, information from PayScale revealed 50 percent of employees 55 and older use social media while at work, and two in five Generation Y workers would rather network on the job than receive a higher salary.

With more people interacting online and posting at all times, it's become more important than ever for companies to create social media policies or revise corporate communications guidelines that may already be in place. Without updated policies that reflect the current environment, many companies may find their workers are confused about what is - and isn't - acceptable, or even find themselves involved in lawsuits over social media use.

What Are Employers Doing About On-the-Job Social Media Use?
While some workers may assume there's no harm in checking their Facebook pages throughout the day as long as they get their work done, that may not actually be the case. Some companies forbid social media use while employees are on the job, but unless human resources departments make such policies well known, workers may never be aware of this fact.

These policies can help enhance employee productivity, as well as protect a company that finds itself in an unexpected situation regarding a former - or current - employee and a Facebook post or Twitter update. However, few seem to take the time necessary to create such guidelines, and smaller companies put more of an emphasis on these rules, according to PayScale. While 57 percent of small companies have a formal social media policy, this number drops to 52 percent for mid-sized businesses and only 47 percent of large organizations.

This can be a significant problem, considering the number of people who access social media while they're at work. A 2012 survey  revealed 64 percent of employees take time to browse non-work related websites during the day, with 39 percent of workers claiming they spent about an hour or less per week on distractions. Twenty-nine percent claimed they spent up to two hours per week on non-work related tasks, and another 21 percent believe they spend five hours per week distracted from business tasks. The biggest time-wasters are Facebook and LinkedIn, with Google Plus and Twitter ranking lower on the list.

Unfortunately, merely blocking these sites may not do employers much good. Restricting access to social networking platforms on work-issued devices won't prevent an employee from posting or checking for updates from his or her personal smartphone or tablet. 

Ensuring Business-Related Accounts Aren't Compromised
While having a set of guidelines for employee social media use shouldn't be overlooked, those in charge of company accounts should also have to follow a policy. British retailer HMV learned this lesson the hard way when it failed to secure the brand's Facebook and Twitter accounts before laying off almost 200 employees. A disgruntled employee live tweeted updates from the mass firing, embarrassing the company and highlighting that social media activities can have a hurtful effect if they're ignored.

Employees with access to brand accounts should be well-versed in a company's social media guidelines, and these policies should indicate what information is - and is not - permissible to post. Even more importantly, a brand's policy should ensure an operation, not an individual employee, has ultimate control over any business Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus pages. Managers should take hold of these accounts and revoke access if they plan on terminating an employee to ensure no former team member posts unapproved updates on a company page.

What Should Businesses Consider When Implementing a Policy?
Companies are slowly beginning to realize the importance of corporate social media policies, and as time goes by, they have more issues to consider when they create such guidelines. Recent lawsuits over employee posts on social platforms have led the National Labor Relations Board to create a set of guidelines of what is legally permissible for workers to put on the web. These rules make it generally unacceptable for a private company to create too broad of a social media policy, meaning companies with such rules should revisit them.

According to the NLRB ruling, employers also cannot forbid employees from discussing their working conditions on the web. Even though policies may discourage workers from discussing company matters or coworkers on Facebook or Twitter, the recent ruling determined employees should have the right to discuss their working conditions without getting fired.

Many big businesses have detailed policies to ensure their guidelines aren't in violation of the NLRB ruling and to guarantee there's no confusion for employees who are active on social media. Best Buy, for instance, asks employees not only to be discreet when they post about anything work-related, but also to state how they are affiliated with the business and disclose that comments made are their opinions, not those of the company.

Special Considerations for CFOs
Finance executives have to be especially careful with their online behavior since they are privy to sensitive company data, including material nonpublic information. The Securities and Exchange Commission's Regulation Fair Disclosure prohibits the dissemination of such data to select groups of people; it must be distributed to all investors so that no one group has an edge over another. As communications platforms continue to proliferate, following this rule can sometimes be fuzzy for executives who want to have an active presence on social media sites and are eager to promote positive data about their business.

In July 2012, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, announced a major milestone via his Facebook page. After posting an update that revealed Netflix users streamed 1 billion hours of video the previous month, Hastings was investigated by the SEC to determine if he had violated Reg FD. Because Reg FD was implemented in 2000 when social media was not a common way for companies to distribute information, there was no set way for regulators to determine if the post violated the rule.

After looking into the situation and determining Hastings was not in violation of the regulation, the SEC created a set of guidelines for executives who wish to share nonpublic information on social sites. The updated rules state companies would be better off distributing sensitive information via multiple channels, not merely social media. They also call for companies to inform investors if they will be making disclosures on an executive's networking page and for businesses to ensure any statements made are not in violation with previously determined Reg FD rules.

Having access to sensitive data invites more opportunities for risk, whether they come in the form of Reg FD violations or other forms, meaning those who know confidential or soon-to-be-released data should be aware of what they can post on social sites, in addition to how and when they're permitted to spread that information.