Your Social Media Policy

Greg Diamond – ByrnesMedia

I love the Olympics! Every four years we’re treated to athleticism at its highest and those two weeks in London may just have been the best ever – Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team – and while we’re at it, I suppose you could also award a gold medal to social media.

Over the last few Olympics (Winter and Summer) we’ve seen a progression in social media, but it seemed to really explode in London. People now enjoyed unprecedented access to the athletes through Twitter, Facebook, etc. In fact, reporters that sometimes had difficulty securing post-event reactions in the past, found life much easier by simply following their desired participant via tweets and other online updates.

So, for the most part, this was an overwhelmingly positive advancement, but with everything there comes a downside.

Australian swimmer, Stephanie Rice, caused a slight scandal prior to the Olympics when she tweeted a photo of herself in a skimpy bikini. Some of her followers suggested she be left at home, but luckily for her the Aussies on their national Olympic committee disagreed and instead she ended up posting an apology.

More seriously, though, was Greek Triple Jumper, Voula Papachristou, who was dismissed before she could even compete for tweeting a joke about Africans. Imagine training all those years and then throwing it all away because you did something profoundly inappropriate and just plain stupid.

There was also the Swiss soccer player, Michel Morganella, who tweeted a racist comment towards the South Koreans and was promptly and rightly sent home.

There were other social media-related issues, but you get the point.

Olympians aren’t the only ones capable of these types of errors. Your staff members can easily do the same. That’s why it’s in your best interest to have a clearly laid out social media policy.

Let’s go through some of the ‘dos and don’ts’ of social media, so you can craft your own policy, use it as an addendum to your staff agreements, and then clearly explain it to your employees and, hopefully, head off any potential future problems.

The first thing to understand is that you can only go so far with rules regarding people’s online conduct. In many instances the parameters are still being determined as companies struggle with what can and can’t be challenged in the courts. The best advice at this time is to be as thorough as possible, without being overly dictatorial.

In the U.S., the National Labor Relations Board issued a report earlier this year that stated, “an employer may prohibit their employees from posting as the company or in the name of the company or in a manner that could be attributed to the employer if the associate does not have express written permission to do so.

An employee may not post anything as a formal opinion of the company or organization without permission either.”

That’s a good start and seems quite appropriate for the majority of your staff, but it’s also too restrictive for those employees that are most likely to be engaged in social media activity – the jocks.

Announcers are being encouraged to engage the audience through social media as a way of building a stronger bond between themselves and the listener. It’s also another very effective way of enriching the immediacy of our medium. So, to blanket them with the same restrictions as everyone else would be counterproductive, and, therefore, “express written permission” is not only warranted, but necessary. 

To assist in guiding employees that are given licence to interact online, the NLRB also concluded that there can be requirements that employers can still rightfully insist upon. Those are:

Know and follow rules;

Post respectful content;

Be accurate;

Be honest;

Post only appropriate content;

Never retaliate.

Take particular note of the final directive. There is absolutely no reason to ‘get down in the dirt’ with someone who’s being combative online. You’ll never win the argument, regardless of how cogent a response you might craft. The anonymous nature of the web will always allow for individuals to insist that the sky is orange and nothing you say to the contrary will change their minds. It should be noted that more often than not those people don’t believe what they are posting either, but rather their intent is simply to ‘mix it up’. Don’t make the mistake of playing their game. Also, if someone should post a derogatory comment regarding a jock or other staff member, just delete it (or don’t approve it in the first place) and then bar the poster – simple as that.

The NLRB goes on to tackle confidentiality issues by stating that staff should “maintain the confidentiality of employer trade secrets and private or confidential information. Trade secrets may include information regarding the development of systems, processes, products, know-how and technology. Do not post internal reports, policies, procedures or other internal business-related confidential communications.”

All these instructions appear sound and reasonable, but again it must be stressed that social media continues to evolve and staying up to date with your policy will be an ongoing challenge, but one that will be increasingly important as more platforms come to the fore of a likely escalating sophistication.

I came across a social media policy for a larger company and as I went through it, I found three things that you should consider adopting.

First, it states, “You are responsible for your actions.”

That line alone should leave an employee with a strong sense of expectations. However, the policy also wisely breaks it down further so as to leave the reader with the concrete instructions required.

“When you participate in the online social media activities, do so properly, exercise sound judgment and most of all, care and discretion. Be respectful of all individuals. Never insult others, including competitors or co-workers. Only those team members expressly authorized by the company may speak on behalf of the company and use the company’s logos, trademarks and other intellectual property in their communications…”

The second line of note is, “Keep your business and personal lives separate.”

This is a key element to incorporate for announcers. For jocks that use an on-air pseudonym this will be easier to maintain, but even they will need to understand that somewhere, someone will know who they are both on and off the air. Freedom of speech should be respected by all companies, but it’s not too much to expect an employee to “remember that guests, colleagues, supervisors… and even the media may have access to the online content you post. Keep this in mind when publishing information online. Remember NEVER to disclose non-public information about the company (including confidential information)…” As a further safeguard, the policy goes on to say “If you have questions about responding to or joining an online social media group, forward your questions to Public Affairs.”  This is something everyone should include in their policy – when in doubt, ask!

The last instruction is the most important one. It says, “Let the designated online spokespersons respond to negative posts.”

The policy goes on the reinforce the NLRB’s “Never retaliate” directive by saying, “You may come across negative or disparaging posts… or see third parties trying to spark negative conversations. Unless you are a designated online spokesperson, avoid the temptation to respond. Pass the post(s) along to our designated online spokespersons who are trained to address such comments, by forwarding them to Public Affairs.”

This really needs to be stressed again. Don’t respond and if you really feel that someone should, then ‘kick it upstairs’ and CYA.

There’s an excellent article I came across entitled “10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy” by Sharlyn Lauby, who is president of Internal Talent Management Group (ITM Group). Her firm specializes in employee training and human resources consulting. She makes numerous good points that can further assist you when writing your policy and can also help ensure your station is using social media more effectively. Here are the first few points:

1. Introduce the purpose of social media

All policies need to address what’s in it for the reader/user — what should the reader take away after reading the policy? One of the common themes I kept coming across in introductions to social media policies is the idea that the policy should focus on the things that employees can rather than what they can’t do. For those of us who have experience writing policies, this is a real paradigm shift.

But that’s the spirit of social media — it’s all about leveraging the positive. And that needs to be evident in the policy. Houghton agrees, “The old way of doing things is to create an unnecessarily restrictive model of engagement that prevents companies from leveraging new media appropriately.”

2. Be responsible for what you write

Oren Michels, CEO of Mashery, explains that “people tend to interpret having the ‘right’ to express themselves online as implying a lack of consequences when they say stupid things.” That’s not the case. Your organization and its representatives need to take responsibility for what they write, and exercise good judgment and common sense.

“Dooced” is an Internet expression that means to lose one’s job because of things one says on one’s website or blog. No one wants that to happen, of course, so using common sense and being responsible is important.

3. Be authentic

Include your name and, when appropriate, your company name and your title. Consumers buy from people that they know and trust, so let people know who you are.

You can find her entire article at

If you would like to read more from Sharlyn Lauby, you can visit her website at

There’s another great piece by Craig Kanalley entitled “Tips for Making the Most of Twitter”.

His first three points are:

  1. 1.    You have to start somewhere: You don’t have to know everything about Twitter to get started. It’s a never-ending stream. Just jump right in.
  2. 2.    Who you follow is so important: This ultimately defines your Twitter experience. Follow people you admire, who inspire and who are doing what you want to do.
  3. 3.    It’s OK to get a little obsessed: Making the most of Twitter requires a lot of time, experimentation and energy. Keep at it. You’ll learn a lot and have a chance to network.

Read the entire post at

Some other points to consider when posting online include:

1. Target your tweets as you would your on-air content.

Posting a football score when you work at an AC station isn’t going to be of interest to many of the people following you, but tweeting the latest health tip probably will.

2. Don’t waste people’s time.

Like the previous point, make sure there is relevancy to your posts and don’t overdo it. You want to engage your followers, not pester them. Always remember – “all things in moderation.”

3. Be timely.

We often speak of “local-perishable” content – prep that strikes people squarely in the ‘here and now’. If you can do the same with your social media posts you will have utilized it at its most effective.

I heard from a PD the other day who told me of a car accident that had snarled traffic. The jock that was on the air at the time tweeted a detour that the audience could use to bypass the problem. The response he received back was tremendous and you can be certain that he further cemented his bond with those listeners.

4. Don’t take your eye off job #1.

Put social media in perspective. While it is effective in enhancing listener engagement, it can’t be allowed to overshadow what you’re really paid to do – make great radio. I’ve had occasion lately to hear about jocks that have performed less than stellar breaks because they were busy posting instead of preparing for their next stopdown. You need to be fully focused on your upcoming break with at least 60 seconds left in the song. The tweet can wait until you’re done.

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that social media will continue to play an increasing role in our industry. If you have not already done so, it would be in your best interest to create a policy for your staff that reflects the conduct you expect of them. It’s no longer something you can continue to put off. Do it soon, but take your time and do it properly. The last thing anyone wants is a career ruined in 140 characters or less.