Policied to Death – Employees and Social Media (Yet Again)

social media privacy image

Yes, they are talking about your company, and they’re your employees. Get over it!

By now, if you have been reading this blog with any regularity you are familiar with my rant against employee social media policies.  In fact, you are probably a bit tired of it.  It just seems that pundits keep on getting it wrong, in my opinion.  They also all seem to forget all the other policies that are in place.  Case in point is an article at spinsucks.com that advocates for creating a social media policy.  I have major problems with the article.

First things first

The first thing they about an employee who tweets about how much she hates her job and her boss.  Her boss tweets to her that she is fired.  Anyone who is familiar with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and how the Board (NLRB) has interpreted protected and concerted activity will see the problem straight away.

If you are not familiar, let’s go back over it.  Protected speech is generally any speech about work conditions.  Complaints about bosses fall well within work conditions.  Concerted activity is generally speech meant to engage other employees.  The above fact pattern is interesting.  How many fellow employees are followers of the poster?  Did anyone other than her boss respond?  Is she protected by the NLRA?  I would have personally proceeded very carefully with regards to terminating her.

My problem with the article is that nowhere in the article does the author even mention the protections that employees have.  More on that later.

You can’t control your employees!

Your employees conduct on social may reflect on you and your brand.  The problem is that you can’t control it.  First, any type of control will result in unexpected leakage at the edge.  What about the employee who posts anonymously on pissedconsumer.com?  Are you going to go on a witch hunt to identify the employee?

If you have problems that are cropping up through social about your business that seems to be posted by employees you have other methods to address it.  Identifying the employee and terminating them is not a method.  In fact, if you terminate an employee for posts that have impact on social, have you evaluated the further damage they will create after termination?  The proper methods to address this are well known.  Create an engaged employee culture.  Listen to their problems.  Give them the tools to succeed.  Even the great companies to work for have folks who aren’t happy.  The public understands you can’t please everyone.

On-the-clock, off-the-clock … doesn’t matter

If you are managing this space properly you don’t need to worry about whether the speech is done while at work or out of work.  Train and manage your employees so that they are engaged.  If you use draconian controls while they are on the clock, you will only incent them to post while off the clock.  The key to this space is not telling employees to do the right thing by your company but showing them what that right thing is.  Give them examples of other employees engaging on social about your brand.  Show them what you like.  Maybe even give them sample messages, but be okay when they personalize it alittle.

You don’t need a social media policy

Are you worried about employees posting racist comments in social?  What about racist comments out in society?  In the days before social what would you do if an employee at a conference starting spouting off racial epithets.  When they came back they would be talked to, and possibly fired.  Why do you need a new policy to do something you did before?  Just because you find the conduct more easily and faster today doesn’t change your actions as an employer.  Social didn’t change what you would do.

You can’t mandate tone

The author of the article ends with the totally wrong thing to put in your policy.  Any policy, actually.

Don’t ever put something online you wouldn’t want your boss, your grandma, your kids, or your customers to see.

If this is out there and you terminate someone based on the document that has it, you are in trouble.  The NLRB has held, on more than one occasion, that such a statement is way overbroad.  The reasoning is that in order to talk about working conditions you sometimes includes conflict.  Even leaving aside that reasoning, let’s look at the “want your boss” portion of that.  Would you want your boss to know you are complaining about your wages?  Of course not.  There is a reason why such speech is protected.  Such a prohibition is clearly wrong.  

Get over this attitude that social is the wild wild west and you need gunslingers

Social does increase the speed and scale of employee speech.  That is the only thing that changed.  Everything else stayed the same.  Why do you think you need something new?  Just like marketers are understanding that social media marketing is just a portion of marketing, not a totally new discipline.  Your company doesn’t have a social media strategy, it has a strategy.  You have policies already.  Figure out how they apply to social and call it a day.

Provide guidance and training, but not requirements

One of the reasons why I don’t like social media policies is that they will inevitably run afoul when challenged.  The other reason is that policies by their very definition are negative documents.  They tell employees what not to do.  Social is all about engagement.  You should be telling them what they can do.

This includes training.  Sometimes this training is formal (classroom), but more importantly I think it is ongoing expectation setting.  Show them how others engage in social and use the tools.  For some employees this may be training on the platforms themselves.  This is guidance though, not requirements.  Don’t mandate conduct, suggest it.  If your employees are well engaged already they will follow your lead.  If you have a problem with your employees where you are worried about what they will say, you have bigger problems than just social.  Fix them first.

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