Social Media Policies – The Why Rather than the What
One of the most popular discussions in the area of social media law centers on social media policies. A simple Google search will produce plenty of examples. Some people think you simply copy and paste one of these examples and change the company name to your own. Then, you can check the social media policy off the list and move on to the next thing. There is even a site with an online database of social media policies.
Before you implement a policy, or take the shortcut, rather than asking yourself if you need one or whose you should copy, you should ask yourself “Why?”
As a lawyer, the obvious answer is risk mitigation. Can I reduce or completely avoid risks with a social media policy? Yes, if you have a policy and apply it, you can do some of that. If you check it off and then ignore, you may actually expose yourself to more liability. That is why the policy should be just as much about why as what. Doing it as an item to check off of a list of things to do is not going to motivate your team to follow it.
By way of example, the Coca-Cola Company has a good social media policy. They actually call it their Online Social Media Principles. You can review it to get started or for some ideas. I do the same. I don’t cut and paste it. Having spoken with one of their lawyers about this policy, it was a team effort. Legal was one part of it, along with management, HR, product development and others. Based on other conversations, it is that way with Hewlett Packard as well with their Blogging Code of Conduct.
I am guessing you are not Coca-Cola or HP and have different issues. Not to get too esoteric, but like most things in life, the success of a social media policy depends largely on the motivation for doing it.
Are you trying to encourage your team members to get involved in social media and promote your company? Can they do it while at work? Are you a company that thrives on discretion and that is the last thing you want? Are you focused on products? B2B? B2C? Services? Do you have designated spokespersons and official social media channels? Do you already have a personnel manual that should be incorporated into your social media policy?
I’m a lawyer that drafts social media policies, so yes, legal is important. In one case, the Federal Trade Commission cited to the fact the company had a social media policy as part of the justification for dismissing an investigation about unlawful online endorsements. Social media raises certain legal issues that should be addressed and legal has a role in all of these. Your policy, however, will only be successful, if the key players buy in.