Why Your Company Needs a Formal Social Media Policy

Posted July 5, 2017

Whether they tweet as part of their job or simply check in with friends and family on break, many people are using social media during the workday. Have you set reasonable ground rules for that behavior?

“Effective social media policies are tailored to both the business and particular employees,” says Robin Luce-Herrmann, a lawyer who leads the media team and social media, privacy and technology team at law firm Butzel Long. “The goal of a social media policy is to educate, provide guidance and alert an employee to situations where they need to get someone up the chain involved.”

Here are 3 reasons your company probably needs a formal social media policy:

It Helps Protect Trade Secrets

People like to share information about work. But even casual discussions online can sometimes disclose important information that’s unique to your business — and once it’s out, it’s hard to bring it back.

“Companies spend countless dollars and other resources developing and maintaining their own intellectual property, but it only takes 1 careless or uninformed employee inadvertently posting it to social media to undo those best-laid plans,” says Callan Stein, a partner in the litigation department at Donoghue Barrett & Singal.

Your social media policy should address processes employees should follow to prevent any disclosure of confidential information on social media, he says.

It Reduces Risk to Your Company

It’s not just your trade secrets that are at risk through sloppy social media use. When employees post about work, they may disclose clients or client information, violate customer service policies or inadvertently commit libel or plagiarism. Having clear guidelines in your policy will help protect your organization in the long-run.

“Due to the nature of their business, some companies become privy to their customers’ confidential information,” Stein says. “With that comes incredible responsibility — sometimes in the form of a state or federal law — to maintain and protect that confidential information, including from inadvertent or reckless disclosure by employees through social media.”

Having a policy not only provides guidance to employees to prevent these types of disclosures, but it may also provide a measure of legal cover for a company in the event of a lawsuit, he says.

It Helps Reduce Bias in Hiring

Social media recruiting makes it easier for hiring organizations to spot people who might be a good fit for the company and develop a pool of passive candidates who might someday be looking for a job. But using social media incorrectly when recruiting can set the company up for a discrimination lawsuit.

“While helpful for recruiting, social media can lead to employment claims if used improperly,” says Darin Klemchuk, an intellectual property lawyer.

If an applicant’s protected status is uncovered through social media, that knowledge can put the company at risk of an employment claim if the person ends up not being hired. Most experts recommend separating the hiring manager and the person checking social media profiles for information, and a strong social media recruiting policy can help make it clear that social media profiles should be used only to clarify dates of employment.

— Mary Ellen Slayter