I generally prefer to spend my time discussing the merits of proper use of social media and the benefits of best practices implementation. Recent questions that I’ve received, along with this morning’s news, however, highlighted for me that I may need to address the other side of social media, not just for employers of social media users, but also social media savvy folks who carry the responsibility of adherence to workplace policies that may extend beyond the physical workplace. Today, we were greeted with the cautionary tale of a meteorologist from Shreveport, Louisiana, who was recently fired because of comments that she made on her television station employer’s Facebook page. These comments were made in response to viewer comments, and were supposedly in violation of the station’s so-called “social media policy,” that was evidently communicated at some point in an email. All kinds of wrong in this situation.
First, employers, social media is real; it’s here and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. If you do not have a clearly communicated social media policy in writing and that has been separately and clearly provided to employees, labeled as “Social Media Policy,” you are behind the times and are begging for customer relations issues and employee concerns in the future. Take the time to create your social media policy, making clear when, how and if you want your customers communicated to on behalf of your brand; and even further, how you expect your employees to govern themselves via their own personal social media presence, relating to their employment with you and otherwise.
Second, employees, social media is not personal; it’s public. Anyone can see what you’ve written, not just your “friends” who you assume are the only individuals reading your posts. In the case of Rhonda Lee (fired meteorologist), it was very clear that she was responding via her employer’s Facebook page to comments made by the station’s viewers. But in other situations, it may not be as clear whether or not your activities could be connected to your workplace. The safest path involves making sure that no matter your position or role within a company, that you are familiar with your employer’s social media policy that should be provided to you in writing. Additionally, if you are going to establish or maintain a social media presence, you may want to think of that public platform as an extension of your physical workplace, even if you are posting outside of work hours. There’s no point in being professional on LinkedIn and a complete idiot on Twitter. Both sites, profiles and information are equally visible by the same people, yes, even with privacy settings.
Bottom line, be smart and thorough in your approach to social media as an employee and as an employer. There’s no excuse for not having a social media policy, and no excuse if you’re an employee for not requesting one and making yourself familiar with it. Social media is great when you’re using it successfully and correctly to build your brand and establish your audience for the things that matter to you most; but you don’t want to face avoidable downside consequences in the employment realm. So, take the steps to protect yourself!
*None of the foregoing is intended as or should be construed as legal advice. Please consult counsel of your own choosing for questions, issues and advice pertaining to the specifics of your individual situation.