Why Your Company Needs a Social Media Policy

Does your company have a social media policy? By "social media policy," I mean not only a policy about what your organization is posting, but also what your employees are posting. Do you remember the uproar about the group of lifeguards fired for posting a video of themselves lip-syncing to the wildly successful "Gangnam Style" song?  

Variations on "Gangnam Style" have garnered more than 1 billion hits to date on YouTube, which is why lifeguards at a community pool wanted to join in on the fun. But thanks to the ham-handed action of the management, the lifeguards were fired under a "uniform clause" — which tells me they didn't have a social media policy in place. Nevertheless, the lifeguard video went viral and quickly garnered more than 2.3 million hits. 

Clearly, the employer was concerned about the reputation of their facility and thought firing the lifeguards sent a clear message. The problem? The message to 2.3 million people is that the city is out-of-date. Social media is not going away. To the great discomfort of employers, parents, government officials and repressive regimes around the world, social media has all the characteristics of watching a tsunami head to shore and all you have are water wings.

We have a choice: Ride the tidal wave of social media or let it smack us to the bottom. I am firmly in favor of riding the wave — with all the control and excitement that implies. To ride a wave, you need a surfboard. In this case, that's a social media policy. If the city had to use a "uniform policy" to fire the lifeguards, it meant that they didn’t have a policy on social media. Don’t make the same mistake.

I put out a request for social media policies from various organizations and got back one in particular that has the right tone. You need to run any policies by your human resources department and your legal counsel, but this is a great starting place. This policy makes it clear that representing your employer does not end at the end of your shift, discrimination in any form is not tolerated and disclosure of confidential business information is not tolerated. The repercussions of violating the policy are also clearly outlined. 

I still believe we need to leverage YouTube and other media — for example, by giving the camera to our amazing, fit and photogenic lifeguards and aquatics-loving professionals, giving them some guidelines, approving the video and promoting it like crazy — but do it intentionally, with a good social media policy in place. This policy doesn’t expressly forbid using social media, but it leaves wiggle room for the employer to determine what is and isn't "misrepresentation." 

With thanks to the forward-thinking organization that provided their social media policy language:

SOCIAL MEDIA:  As in all interactions, whether in the built or virtual environment, you are a representative of the company. As a representative, your positions must be in-line with XYZ Company policies and positions. Guidelines for functioning in an electronic world are the same as the values, ethics and confidentiality policies employees are expected to live everyday, whether you’re tweeting, talking with customers or chatting over the neighbor’s fence. Remember, your responsibility to XYZ Company doesn’t end when you are off the clock. For that reason, this policy applies to both company sponsored social media and personal use as it relates to our company.

You should always:

• Act responsibly and ethically: When participating in online communities, do not misrepresent yourself. Don’t state you are a manager or representative of XYZ if you are not, and have not been directed to do so.

• Honor Our Differences: Live the values. XYZ will not tolerate discrimination (including age, sex, race, color, creed, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, citizenship, disability, marital status or any other legally recognized protected basis under federal, state, or local laws, regulations or ordinances).

• Never disclose our numbers, whether they are financially based or operational. Never disclose any guest information, legal matters or any confidential information.

• NEVER post anything online while at work on the clock.

• Any violation of this policy will result in termination.

I will ask one question — do you use social media effectively?  If you think you could be more effectively, please post a comment or e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll make it the subject of a future blog. But in the meantime, here are some of my favorite videos, made in uniform at work, that showcase the employers and the employees brilliantly. Enjoy!

First, a PSA from the Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers:  

And, a moment of national pride for me, the 2012 USA Olympic Swim Team. 

And the winner for best original song while promoting what a great lifeguard can do, check out this video from the lifeguards at Raging Waters. Listen to the words — someone needs to hire these guys or make this video go viral.   

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