Social Policy Updating: How To Prepare

Frequent social platform changes, new laws and increased enterprise use mean it's time for a social policy review. Consider this advice on what to include.

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LinkedIn: 10 Important Changes

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LinkedIn: 10 Important Changes

Social business is booming in the enterprise. Typically it's happening through employees using some combination of the following: social capabilities integrated into traditional productivity apps; social tools as a hub for communications with internal staff and business partners; and LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for branding, customer support and recruiting.

Smart companies have realized that they need to manage this wide-ranging use of social through a formal social policy. Really smart organizations are realizing that they need to update those policies and soon.

Social is no longer a business upstart. In fact, it's less and less a "thing" and more and more a capability that's just expected in any new enterprise tool or business strategy. But it's the wide-ranging applications of social, along with the fact that many activities are conducted on public -- and ever-changing -- networks that demands a careful examination of existing policy to determine if updates need to be made.

[ Want more on how to help employees become socially adept? Read 10 Ways To Foster Effective Social Employees. ]

"Social media is evolving at such a rapid pace that companies simply have to make time to review their social media policies on a recurring basis," said Jeremy Goldman, author of the book, Going Social: Excite Customers, Generate Buzz and Energize Your Brand with the Power of Social Media. "I recommend that companies do so on a quarterly basis, and that they block out time ahead of time in order to ensure this happens."

Goldman recommends that policy administrators have the following information in hand before reviewing and updating social media policy:

-- Usage habits. Are employees starting to use social platforms more from mobile devices than from desktop browsers? If mobile devices are too difficult to monitor, the policy can encourage social media usage in browsers instead of via mobile.

-- New platforms. Is your company using new social networks? For example, Vine probably didn't exist when your policy was originally developed. Policy will need to take newer platforms into account.

-- Changes in social networks' policies or features. Have any of the public social networks your company frequents changed privacy or security policies in a way that should be reflected in your company policy? Have any public or internally used social tools added new features you should address?

-- Work applications. What are the reasons your employees should be using some or all of these social platforms? Do certain job functions require using Facebook during the day? Are there users in your organization who don't need access at all, or perhaps only during certain periods of time?Organizations should also keep new legal implications in mind when reviewing existing policy or drafting new policy.Donna Ballman, an employee-side employment attorney who has practiced for more than 25 years, works with HR professionals and lawyers on the development of social media policies. She recommends that companies have their policies reviewed by a management-side lawyer, especially in light of new legislation around social.

"The National Labor Relations Board is focusing heavily on social media policies and looking for language that might discourage employees from discussing working conditions. Policies they've found illegal included a policy that prohibited 'disparaging, discriminatory or defamatory comments when discussing the company or the employee's superiors, co-workers and competitors.' Many company social media policies include similar language," said Ballman, author of the book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards.

Ballman also noted that several states have passed laws against employers that demand social mediapasswords, with legislation pending in other states.

"Employers who are demanding passwords for employees or potential employees may be breaking thelaw," she said. "Any policy saying they can demand the passwords may need to be updated."

In the early days of social, business use of platforms such as Facebook were mostly grass roots, usually with one person setting up a company account, on his own, to test the waters. Some of these accounts are still in use, which brings up the issue of ownership.

"Another reason to update policies is to make it clear who owns any social media accounts," said Ballman. "The company social media guru who starts tweeting as 'WidgetsAmerica,' gets 100,000 followers, and then switches jobs to a competitor, can easily change their handle to the new company name and take those followers with them. If they were tweeting as part of their job, does the company own their Twitter account? Maybe. A clear policy accompanied by a contract with that employee about ownership of the account should alleviate any doubt."

These are just a few of the many issues that organizations need to consider as they update, or draft, social media policy, and as that policy increasingly becomes woven into day-to-day business.

Do you have a social media policy at your organization? Is it currently in flux? What's driving change? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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