Monday, April 13, 2015

Social Media Policies for Employers, Employees and their Counsel

By Laura Powers

In October, I had the pleasure of speaking at the 2014 Bench-Bar & Annual Conference held by the Philadelphia Bar Association. I was joined by Ryan Gatto, Global Director of Compliance at Sungard Availability Services, and Justin Moriconi, Senior Associate at Segal McCambridge.

During the conference, my fellow speakers and I discussed the importance of putting social media policies in place for businesses and the rationale behind having a designated social media expert (or even more than one).

Here’s what we learned:

There is Power in Social Media

Social media can be wielded as a powerful marketing and business development weapon if properly harnessed. It can be used effectively in regular communication with external audiences such as past, existing or potential clients, customers and employees, the media, government officials and referral sources as well as in crisis communications.

In crisis, for example, many companies used their social profiles, which had followings, to communicate during Hurricane Sandy because they didn't have email service and some did not have phone service, either. Social media has become a primary channel not only for regular outreach, but also for critical communication during a crisis.

For recruiting purposes, social media gives us a look inside the culture and environment of a company. A website can only take this so far; social media allows us to take it further. For example, office parties, office pets, event photos or sponsored 5K races are snapshots into the daily interactions of coworkers and that is so critical to recruiting, especially for younger generations that place a lot of value on a job’s flexibility and life balance.

How to Benefit – Educate Employees

Most employees don’t start their day with the intention to damage the company they work for. They most likely haven’t been properly informed enough to understand the effects of their online behavior because the guidelines and expectations about company-sanctioned behavior have not been correctly communicated. It should be up to the employer how it provides this education.

Clearly, companies shouldn't be taking the “head in the sand” approach to social media. To deal with possible crisis issues, employers need to take the time to develop a thoughtful policy. And since technology often outpaces the law, that policy needs to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Once social media policies are created, they should have a proper firm-wide roll-out to management and staff.

How to Manage Your Online Reputation

This is why having a team internally, or externally, like an agency, is critical. I can’t tell you all the things we've found that employees have posted, including a lawyer’s post one day from court that said “Justice is so slow. Wish this judge would hurry up,” and, “Bored to tears in this NJ CLE class.”

A branded platform that does not look like it is abandoned by the company but looks like it is cared for every day will emphasize an employee’s perception that they are being watched and promote conservative use. Consistent branding, messaging and positioning for a company on the platforms that are sanctioned for use also will make a difference.

Marketing & Communications – What’s Necessary and Obvious

In 2013, more than 92 percent of companies reportedly had one staff member for whom “social media” was a requirement according to a Forbes article by contributor Ken Makovsky entitled ‘A Snapshot Of Social Media 2013.’

Of those social media experts, 18 percent report directly to the CEO, indicating that social goals and strategies are gaining traction in the boardroom. There is still discrepancy between the dedication to social and the belief within a company’s leadership that it is actually effective, but measurement and effectiveness is another conversation.

Leadership cannot rely solely on the marketing staff to handle policy management and social media engagement. A social media committee can be set up to monitor and manage everything and hold each other accountable if there is no designated social media expert or if your company is too big for just one expert to handle.

The team setups we see vary based on the culture of the company and its attitude, which also depends on the generational demographics in the company. In open environments, social media is accepted as the norm and everyone can be a brand ambassador and share information online. However, that doesn't lessen the need at all for monitoring and management.

Does your company have a clear social media policy or designated social media expert(s)? Share your experiences or thoughts in the comments section below.

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