Twitter, Gary Lineker and social media policies – what can employers learn?

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Social media policies are a great example of the evolutionary nature of employment practices. With Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter founded on this side of the millennium, the necessity of a social media policy is indicative of the 21st century. Now, 84% of the UK population use some form of social media in a personal capacity [1], be it for keeping up to date on current affairs, staying in touch with family and friends or building professional connections. Employers too have long been utilising social media as a tool to raise their profiles, create a brand and ultimately win work.

Smartphones, apps and the increasing array of platforms to post has made engaging with social media more convenient than ever, but this ease and availability brings with it risk. With platforms like LinkedIn giving employees the ability to publicly attach themselves to their employer, the line between professional and personal is easily transgressed.

So what can employers do to manage these risks and what should you do if an issue arises?

Social media policies 

The importance of having a clear and easily accessible social media policy cannot be understated. Having a robust policy will make identifying transgressions easier and assist you in applying a fair and consistent approach.

Key considerations when drafting a social media policy are:

  • Which employees the policy applies to

This was one of the mistakes made by the BBC, whereby it was not explicitly clear who its policies on social media and impartiality applied to, and whether that included sports freelancers like Lineker, alongside its news staff.

  • What are you trying to achieve?

There should be no grey areas. Do you want to ensure your employees use of social media complies with other internal policies on confidentiality, dignity at work or equal opportunities? Are there any uses of social media that you want to prohibit entirely? For example, posting defamatory material about their employer, disclosing sensitive business information or expressing opinions on your behalf?

  • What is your stance of the use of social media during work hours?

The use of social media itself now forms the basis of many jobs, be it in marketing or recruitment and specific training should be given to individuals in those roles. However, for jobs which don’t necessarily require the use of social media, you may want to consider restricting time spent on it to that which does not interfere with job responsibilities.

  • Will you put in place any monitoring of your employee’s social media use?

If so, whose job is this and what are the guidelines against which you will be monitoring your employee’s usage?

  • What are the consequences of an employee breaching the policy?

Clearly set out the consequences of non-compliance with the policy. Can disciplinary action be taken? It is important for employees to know exactly where they stand if they fail to co-operate and the risks of posting inappropriate content.

  • How often should the policy be updated?

Whilst social media is no longer a novelty, it is constantly evolving, and your policy needs to be able to keep up with any major changes.

What should I do if an employee posts something online which is causing concern?

If an employee has posted something inappropriate or engaged in concerning behavior on social media, it is important to act strategically. If you have a social media policy you will want to check it for guidance on specific procedures, if you don’t, you will still need to follow your internal disciplinary procedures to understand what has happened. Incidents should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Poor management of suspected breaches of a social media policy or complaints of an employee’s online conduct can have serious consequences, both internally and externally. The BBC’s inadequate management of Lineker following his political tweets caused an unprecedented news frenzy and much reputational damage for the organisation. Internally, the situation was no better, with the turmoil caused by Lineker’s colleagues pulling out of TV commitments in solidarity culminating in a weekend of disappointing sports coverage.

Failing to take a clear, fair and measured approach to worrying online content posted by an employee can result in serious consequences including employee upset, interference with workplace culture and damage to your business’s reputation.

If you are faced with an employment issue that is affecting your workplace culture, our team of experienced and impartial employment investigators can help. Please call us for an initial chat on 0808 196 3151 or learn more here.