Social media is a huge part of most of our lives. If we ever meet people that don’t use social media, our first response tends to be along the lines of “Huh? Really? Why?”. We like to share aspects of our lives with our friends and followers – BBQs in the sun, nights out with friends, our kids splashing around in a paddling pool. For the most part, it’s a harmless way to let everyone know what we’ve been up to and encourage some social interaction in our digital worlds.
But there are parts of social media that aren’t so great. Sharing only the good stuff can make others feel bad. Following influencers who travel around the world on ‘gifted’ flights and fancy hotels can leave us feeling a little depressed. And some sharing (or oversharing) can leave employees in hot water at work.
If someone has a bad day in the office, is it ok to rant about it on their personal and private social media platforms? If someone lets their hair down a little too much at the weekend, is it ok to upload photos that might be frowned upon by their colleagues and compromise their reputation in the workplace? Is it ok for a health professional to post a photo of them smoking a cigarette or drinking a shot of tequila? Or a teacher to post photos from a beach holiday?
It can be quite a grey area, which is why most companies now have clear social media codes of conduct that employees must adhere to. These measures are important for both employees and employers to know the boundaries of what’s ok and what isn’t, and for businesses to be able to act if an employee posts something that the business considers, as per its social media policy, to be out of line.
One law firm describes the issues of posting something negative about your employer on social media. “There’s little difference between posting a message online and having your story printed in a newspaper or magazine, or standing on a soapbox and shouting to the masses in the busiest cities,” says Simpson Millar, and most companies are inclined to agree. Having a clear social media policy has helped numerous companies when employees have claimed they were dismissed unfairly due to comments they’d made online.
Tribunals won due to clear social media policies
Preece v JD Wetherspoon plc
A manager who worked for Wetherspoons was dismissed for comments she’d made on Facebook about two customers while she was at work. The comments made by Ms Preece were seen by almost 700 people on Facebook and a complaint was made against her. Wetherspoons dismissed Ms Preece, and although it was taken to a tribunal, the decision was held to be fair due to the company’s clear and concise policy.
Crisp v Apple Retail
Upon joining Apple in 2009, Mr Crisp was given in-depth training on the company’s social media policies, which included employees being prohibited from referring to, mentioning, or commenting upon Apple products. When he did all of those things on his social media platforms, he was suspended and then dismissed. The case went to a tribunal hearing but ultimately, due to Mr Crisp explicitly breaking rules set out clearly by Apple, the dismissal was considered fair.
What’s fair with regards to social media policies?
Designing a social media policy is a tricky business. Companies, of course, must safeguard their brand and reputation but can’t take an employee’s rights and freedom away when it comes to posting on their personal accounts. Businesses need to make sure confidential information is kept confidential but banning employees from mentioning them at all removes the opportunity for positive branding and organic growth via the team member’s channels.
Most social media policies include:
- no derogatory or defamatory comments made about the company
- no abusive behaviour towards the company or co-workers
- no sharing of confidential material
- a general code-of-conduct policy
- rules around joining sensitive or political groups
- ‘common sense’ rules (which aren’t always the best idea as they are open to a lot of interpretation and can leave a company vulnerable if a dismissal goes to tribunal.)
- no personal social media use while at work
Can social media be a good thing at work?
Social media is a hugely advantageous tool for every company, and without a decent social media strategy, businesses will be left for dust by their competitors. Whether a business creates its own content for brand awareness, sales lead generation, or improved customer relationships, or utilizes their staff’s know-how and influence by allowing them to create organic and ‘genuine’ content to attract attention and gain followers, setting boundaries is key. In particular, if an employee is posting personal content combined with content regarding the company, the waters can begin to get murky, even if all the posts are positive, so including rules around conduct is definitely important here too.
Social media is as addictive as it is troublesome and while trends will come and go, social media is here to stay, and how we present ourselves online sticks. How many times have resurfaced tweets got celebrities in trouble? How often have you looked back at a post from years gone by and thought “I absolutely would not post that photo now!” Used in the right way, social media can play a powerful role in company growth and strategy, we just may need to think a little more before we post our every thought and feeling online for all to see.