Recently employees from prominent South African companies hit the headlines for wrong reasons when it was discovered that staff were ‘insulting’ people on Facebook and Twitter. Let’s just say that these companies are not the only to have been troubled by employees’ social media usage. Any quick search on Google will be peppered with articles about how employees were sacked for talking about people, their bosses or customers in a derogatory manner on any of the big social media applications.
Social media has truly given each individual a voice into the world. Your employees’ personal brand and how they use it, has risen in prominence to companies. Whether you like it or not, all of your employees are constantly communicating to a global audience via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, blogging etc. The question is, what do you need to do as a firm or company to help your employees use their personal brand to strengthen your business brand?
Actually the answers are not that difficult. The first thing you need to do is educate your employees to the value of their personal brands in your company’s success and the impact they can have with the way they treat customers and clients, and communicate to the outside world. As you will know, a firm’s or company’s brand is not fixed in stone; and as many brand managers will tell you, it’s defined by the last touch point or experience that a customer or client has with the brand.
Employees need to know that their actions and how they communicate and behave, online and offline, will be seen as representative of your firm’s or company’s brand as a whole. How are you helping them to behave and communicate in accordance with your company’s brand and values? An organisation now needs a social media policy which goes deeper than just which social media platforms the IT department will block access to. Ideally, a social media policy should be in tune with the company’s or firm’s values, and outline the corporate guidelines or principles of communicating for employees in the online world.
Organisations need to consider the implications of employees using social media inappropriately, and the extent to which an employee is in or out of work. It is often too late to do this thinking after the event – in the heat of the moment the risk is that it may end up at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) or splashed across the press; this is in addition to all the negative publicity generated by the ‘event’ in the first place.
Even when you have decided about the need for a social media policy, the next question is who should write and own the policy. Is it the IT department? Or is it marketing? Or is it HR? As the policy is about acceptable and appropriate behaviour, my opinion is that HR should take the lead on writing the policy, whilst being assisted by both the IT department and marketing department.
When crafting a policy, be sure to include the following sections into your policy:
- Intention of the policy
- Scope of the policy
- Whose role it is to police the policy
- Whether or not this policy forms part of the staff member’s contract of employment
- What can or cannot be said by a member of staff, partner or director on social media – regardless of whether acting in a professional or personal capacity
- An escalation procedure to deal with any negative feedback via the firm’s or company’s social media channels, or how to deal with transgressions of the policy by staff members
- What does or doesn’t need to be signed off before it can be posted online
- A clear distinction between employees’ private social media use and use for business purposes.
- Whose role it is to monitor what is being said by staff and managers online
- What the standard pieces of text that need to go in social media profiles are
- Use of company equipment or access to approved social media sites and when this may be done
- Confidentiality of company information
- Consideration should be given to protecting employees from cyber-bullying and cyber harassment
- How individuals will brand themselves on social media – e.g. standard text to go into LinkedIn and Twitter profiles; whether the individuals need to or may include the firm or company name or logos in profiles, and how the company should be described
- Who owns what on social media – i.e. an individual’s LinkedIn connections, blog posts written on behalf of the firm or company
- Remind employees that claiming or implying to speak on behalf of the company is not allowed— unless their job description states otherwise
- Attention must be drawn to the code of conduct of the company which must be respected
Smith encourages employees to block access to their profiles as well as the information that they publish. He cautions that employees cannot claim that their right to privacy was breached by the employer or other individuals if access to their profiles is in public domain. In terms of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act 70 of 2002, “any person . . . may intercept any communication if he or she is a party to the communication, unless such communication is intercepted by such person for purposes of committing an offence”. In addition to the company’s electronic communications policy it may be necessary to introduce another policy, the social media policy. Social media is a platform to learn, network and build your personal brand as well as the company or firm brand. Play nice!