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The value of implementing a social media policy in your business

Article written by George Herbst (Barnard Inc.)

Important considerations when defining your social media policy in the workplace

Nowadays, technology is integrated into every part of our day-to-day lives, and the speed with which negative information can cause public outrage, workplace conflict, and brand damage for your business, is counted in minutes or hours, rather than days. Several recent Council for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) cases have highlighted the importance for enterprises to establish clear policies regarding social media use, as well as the use of personal social media accounts outside work hours.

Aside from the fact that your employees can land themselves in hot water for their social media activity, employers will likely also suffer severe consequences for the actions of those employees. It is therefore really important to establish a social media policy that addresses all the different scenarios where social media is used, and can affect employees, the reputation and security of employers, and the privacy of their customers.

Apart from a comprehensive social media policy, employers should also consider providing training to ensure that everyone understands the risks and consequences of posting on social media.

Implementing your social media policy

An effective social media policy can help to regulate employees’ activities at, and outside the workplace. These standards must reflect your business culture and be designed to minimise the risks involved with online social behaviours.

Employees must be reminded that all comments and posts made on social media (whether for work or personal purposes) have the potential to be distributed and viewed by a much broader audience than initially intended.

Importantly, there must also exist a balance of employees’ interests in your social media policy. For instance, employers that seek to enforce their social media policy outside of the workplace will need to ensure the provisions go no further than to protect the reputation and security of the business. The policy must also respect the individual’s right to privacy, so a broad rule covering any and all use of social media, both during and outside of work hours, should be sensible and appropriate.

1. Define ‘social media’ channels in your policy

You should ensure that the scope of your policy is as wide as possible – covering all types of social media including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and other channels that allow users to post and share images, comments, and videos. Bear in mind that social media is continually changing, and new channels are growing in popularity all the time. Platforms such as TikTok allow for the livestreaming of activities – with many users broadcasting their work duties to followers. Aspects regarding privacy, trade secrets and permissions will need to be addressed accordingly. If your business is a member of an industry association whose reputation may also be affected by negative social media coverage, this should be considered in the policy as well.

2. Specify behaviours that are acceptable and unacceptable

Depending on the industry and workplace, appropriate procedures may permit limited to no access to social media during the workday. However, it might be considered fair if your employee accessed their Facebook account during a lunch break, whether that may be on their work computer or another personal device such as a smartphone or tablet.

Inappropriate behaviour might include comments which could be interpreted as offensive, racist or critical, or those which could result in damage to the employer’s reputation. Breaches of contract or POPI and fiduciary duties – such as the disclosure of confidential information and misuse of intellectual property – should also be specified.

3. Explain the consequences of breaching the social media policy

The disciplinary process of your policy should be effective, regularly reviewed, and available in writing for all staff. If the policy is breached, such methods must be followed accordingly. Employees should also be reminded that if a serious breach occurs, termination of employment is a potential consequence. 

Where the behaviour of an employee can be linked to the cause of reputational damage for an employer, it is possible to discipline and terminate the employment of that individual. In the recent case of Edcon Limited v Cantamessa and Others, such a decision to terminate was found to be correct.  In this instance Cantamessa, who was a senior specialist buyer for Edcon, made inappropriate racial remarks on her personal Facebook account. The connection between Edcon and Cantamessa’s Facebook profile was the fact that she identified herself as being employed by Edcon on her Facebook account. The Court found that the employee had a duty to avoid being controversial in the public eye, as the success of Edcon’s business is dependent on how Edcon advertises and markets themselves to the general public.

Once your social media policy has been developed – in conjunction with your legal advisor – it is important to periodically review and update this policy in order to adapt to the ever-shifting social media environment. Training of employees and management is crucial, as it will keep them up to date with workplace policies, will help to manage risks, while offering you the option of remedy when employees fail to meet behavioural standards.

Barnard Inc. is a proud Partner of the NSBC