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How to create a social media policy

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Social media offers excellent opportunities for employee engagement and business growth, but it can have a sting in the tail for businesses when employees misuse social media at work, or use it to badmouth their employers. Having a social media within the workplace can control this and ensure messages are controlled and are communicated within your company guidelines.

With an estimated growing figure of 61% of UK adults using social networking sites, social media is the most popular online activity for internet users.

Social media use in work 

Social media in the workplace has many positive uses for business, and getting staff involved in contributing to company Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts can help them to feel more engaged. However, excessive use of social networking sites can be disruptive to the day-to-day running of a business.    

Research from 2010 found that over half of British workers confessed to accessing personal social media profiles at work for up to an hour a day, costing the British economy an estimated £14 billion in 'lost time'. You should decide what you think is ‘acceptable use' of the internet and create a policy to reflect this.  

Creating an internet policy 

An internet policy should set out what is deemed acceptable behaviour when using the company's IT systems (e.g. accessing social media sites only at lunch or not at all) and explain what will happen if that policy is breached. Make it clear that any use of the internet is a privilege that can be revoked at any time.    

If you monitor or intercept emails or internet usage, you should make this explicit to members of staff. Undisclosed monitoring can be against employment law. This policy should be in your terms of conditions of employment, either in the contract of employment or employee handbook. Our contract of employment template contains a clause on internet usage and monitoring. 

Negative comments 

A reported one in 10 employees has posted negative comments about their boss on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and we have had numerous calls from members who want to take disciplinary action against members of staff for what they've posted on personal Facebook accounts.     There are a few issues that come into play here. To be able to discipline a member of staff, you first need to have a specific internet policy which addresses social media.     

It also depends on whether the user has an open or closed profile. If it is public, their comments about your business will be there for anyone to see, but if they were made on a private profile, this is the equivalent of a discussion between friends and it would be difficult to take any action.     

If the incident escalates to an employment tribunal, you would need to be able to prove that the comments were made in a public domain and demonstrate that you have a social media policy in place, which has been clearly communicated. 

Creating a social media policy 

Depending on your company's involvement in social media, you may need to extend your internet policy to include social media, or you can create a separate policy.    

Unlike the standard internet policy, which covers use of internal IT systems, you cannot dictate what members of staff do outside of working hours. You can, however, take disciplinary action if they post negative comments about the company in the public domain.     

To discourage this type of activity and protect your business, a social media policy should outline what is deemed unacceptable behaviour and what is likely to happen if the policy is ignored. If staff use social media on behalf of your company with your permission, it's also wise to outline in your social media policy how you expect them to conduct themselves online. This is especially important if you don't want sensitive information to get out into the public domain.   

Ideally, the social media policy should be part of the terms and conditions of employment/staff handbook, but can also be an addendum to it. If this is the case, we advise that you get the staff to sign to say they have read the policy.

Monitor what's being said 

It's important to constantly monitor what is being said about your business online, by employees and non-employees. The easiest way to do this is to carry out regular searches on Google and key social media sites.              

Members can download a free social media guide for small business, detailing handy tips on how to get started and how joining the online community can benefit your business.  

This may also be of interest -  the top 5 top tips to make social media work for you and your business.

Updated 1st June 2016

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