How to Write a Social Media Policy

Here’s what employers should consider when creating a social media policy for employees.

Written by Jeff Rumage
Published on Mar. 06, 2024
How to Write a Social Media Policy
Image: Shutterstock / Built In

Social media can be a powerful tool for promoting your organization, but it comes with risks that can potentially harm its reputation. A social media policy is designed to help you educate employees about acceptable social media use, turning it into an asset rather than a liability. By setting clear social media expectations upfront, companies can ensure they are spreading their message without starting any fires. 

What Is a Social Media Policy?

A social media policy provides guidelines for social media use on company accounts and employees’ personal accounts. These guidelines are designed to prevent legal issues, protect sensitive information and uphold the company’s reputation.


What Is a Social Media Policy?

A social media policy advises employees what is appropriate to post on social media, both on the company’s accounts and employees’ personal accounts. The goal of this policy is to prevent employees from posting something that would embarrass the company, disclose confidential information or land the company in legal trouble.

A social media policy, in other words, consists of “general guidelines to make sure there’s nothing going on social media that will hurt your business, hurt your revenues or hurt your future as an organization,” Nancy Flynn, founder and executive director of the ePolicy Institute, told Built In.

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Why Do You Need a Social Media Policy for Employees?

Clarify Expectations for Social Media Use

When it comes to work-related consequences, many employees simply don’t know what they can and can’t post online. Social media policies aim to rectify this.

Mark Kluger, a partner at law firm Kluger Healey, said this area of the law has turned into a “minefield” in recent years, as there have been varying interpretations as to what types of social media posts can legally result in employee termination.

Many employees incorrectly assume they can speak their mind on social media without consequences. In reality, most U.S. workers are at-will employees, which means employers have a great deal of legal autonomy in deciding what conduct is acceptable. 

One caveat to this is the National Labor Relations Act, which was expanded in 2023 to protect employees who post on social media with the goal of improving the terms and conditions of their employment. The law does not, however, protect employees who are complaining about their job without an attempt to organize for better working conditions.

 

Promote the Company and Maintain Brand Identity

Companies with a strong and consistent social media presence are typically more successful in promoting their products, interacting with customers and talking about their company values and culture.

A social media policy with clear guidelines will also empower employees to advocate for the company on their personal account, which could generate interest from new customers and prospective employees: “The most genius way to market your company and recruit people is to post positive things about what’s going on within the culture,” Jamie Viramontes, founder and CEO of HR Konnect, told Built In.

 

Uphold Company Reputation

If an employee posts something inflammatory on social media, it could cause a public relations nightmare for the company. 

Employees are allowed to post their personal views on social media, of course, but “there is an extent to which that is a reflection on their employer — or an employer certainly can feel that it is a reflection on their brand,” Kluger said. As a result, many policies require employees to act professionally — even on their personal accounts.

If an employee is going to talk about their company or make a statement that could be construed as a reflection of their employers’ views, the policy should require the employee to clarify that their opinions do not represent the views of their employer, Kluger said. 

Some companies might go as far as to prohibit employees from mentioning them on social media, while others might encourage employees to advocate for their brand. If a company takes the latter approach, Flynn said the social media policy should be more detailed in restricting content.

 

Prevent Legal Issues

Social media policies should inform employees how to use social media in a way that complies with the law and industry regulations. For company accounts, the policy might advise employees to avoid copyrighted images and credit the source of images where appropriate. Employees should also be aware of privacy laws, like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects the privacy of healthcare records.

Employees should also be warned not to be critical of competitors, as they may inadvertently say something false or misleading that could result in a defamation claim, Viramontes said.

 

Protect Sensitive Information 

Companies have a vested interest in keeping information confidential, even if it’s not covered by privacy laws. If an employee were to share company information on social media, they could risk sharing proprietary information with competitors, identifying clients that don’t want to be named or disclosing inside information, like an upcoming product that hasn’t been announced by the company. A social media policy should make clear to employees that this type of confidential information should not be shared on social media.

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How to Create a Social Media Policy

A social media policy is typically developed in collaboration between the human resources and legal teams. Executive leadership may also be included in the process to make sure the policy aligns with the company’s values and culture. Ultimately, the social media policy should be incorporated in a company’s code of conduct or employee handbook and introduced to employees during the onboarding process. Due to the ever-changing nature of social media, you’ll want to regularly update your social media policy.

Companies should also review state laws when adopting a social media policy. Some states, such as New York and California, have adopted off-duty conduct statutes, which protect employees’ right to lawful political activity outside of working hours. 

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What to Include in a Social Media Policy

Social media policies can take many shapes, but they typically cover similar ground. Here are some of the most important topics to address in your company’s social media policy:
 

Purpose of the Policy

The social media policy should explain that employees are representatives of the company and emphasize the importance of maintaining professional standards on social media.

 

Who the Policy Applies to

Social media policies typically make it clear that the policy applies to all employees, even when they are posting on their personal social media accounts.

 

Definition of social Media

Companies typically adopt a broad definition of social media in these policies. In addition to major platforms like Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn, they might also include blogs, forums or anything else that could be seen by the public.

 

Compliance With Other Company Policies

The social media policy should make it clear that an employees’ social media posts cannot violate company’s other policies, like sexual harassment or anti-discrimination policies. If an employee posts something racist, misogynistic or homophobic, for example, that could be considered a hostile work environment.

 

Note About Accuracy

Employees should be truthful when posting to social media, or their post could erode trust, trigger a lawsuit or harm the company’s reputation.

 

Confidential Information

Even if a company already has a policy on confidential information, it’s worth reiterating in the social media policy that employees should not be posting confidential information, which could include business strategies, internal metrics and the names of clients.

 

Disclaimers for Personal Opinions

Employees should clarify that their personal opinions, particularly those that might be controversial, do not represent the opinions of their company. This is particularly important for employees who regularly post about their company online.

 

Affiliation Disclosures

If an employee is posting about the business, its products or its services, they should be transparent and disclose their affiliation with the company. 

 

Security Protocols

Some policies include cybersecurity best practices to protect the company from hacking or phishing attempts. 

 

Guidelines for Company Accounts

Clarify who can speak for your brand on social media, as well as what types of information cannot be shared, etiquette for interacting with commenters and how to handle customer complaints. This section should also set a protocol for responding to a PR crisis. Employees who are posting on social media should be trained on these practices.

 

Consequences

Employees should be made aware of the potential repercussions they face for violating the social media policy, which could include disciplinary actions as severe as termination.

Related Reading Creating an Employee Termination Policy


Social Media Policy Examples

Best Buy

Best Buy’s social media policy is short and easy to understand, avoiding the legalese that can make employees’ eyes glaze over. It starts off with three overarching takeaways: “Be smart. Be respectful. Be human.”

This advice, which applies to both company accounts and personal accounts, is explained in more detail with examples of what to do — like use respectful language and clarify that any statements about Best Buy are personal opinions — as well as what not to do, like disclosing non-public information or personal information. 

 

Dell

Dell’s social media policy outlines the policy’s purpose and scope, related policies, the consequences of violations and five easy-to-remember social media principles, like “be nice” and “be responsible.”

Dell’s policy drives home the point that “social media activity, even from your personal account, reflects on Dell Technologies and could have a global impact (positive or negative) on the Dell Technologies brand.” The policy also points out that social media posts can quickly spread beyond their social network through sharing or screenshots, “so be sure you’re only posting content you would feel comfortable showing up in your boss’ inbox, your coworker’s X or Instagram feed, or the front page of a major news site.”

 

Intel

Intel’s social media policy distills its policy into three rules of social media engagement. 

The first, “be upfront,” encourages employees to identify as Intel employees, add disclaimers to their opinions and not to include Intel in the name of their profile.

The second, “focus on the good,” advises employees to talk about Intel’s positive impact without slamming its competitor. It also tells them to leave public relations matters to the PR team.

The third, “use your best judgment,” reminds employees that social media posts and chat apps can become public through screenshots. It also includes this sage bit of wisdom: “If you’re about to publish something that makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable, respect your gut feeling and don’t publish it.” 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

A social media policy outlines the standards for acceptable social media activity on official channels and employees’ personal accounts. Policies typically advise against using hateful language, disclosing confidential information and speaking for the company without proper authorization.

Social media policies empower employees to promote a company’s products or work culture while being mindful of pitfalls that could harm the company’s reputation. This could include the use of inflammatory language, sharing sensitive company information and running afoul of legal or regulatory issues.

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