5 SMCC Implementation Lessons from the Mistakes of Others

After months of thoughtful consideration and review, your organization has finally developed and implemented a Social Media Code of Conduct (SMCC) to handle pre-employment screening and employee usage guidelines.  So, now you think all the hard work has been completed, and your organization is ready to move on to the next challenges.  In fact, the development of a SMCC is just the initial phase of the process; there is much more to be done.

We all know there is a significant difference between implementing and executing an idea, plan, or strategy.  How many of us have worked in an organization that has developed a Strategic Plan only to find it relegated to a shelf in our office, never to be looked at or utilized until it is time to develop the next Strategic Plan.

This is certainly NOT how your organization should think of the SMCC.

You may have seen or heard the story of a reporter from the Phoenix Bureau of the Associated Press (AP) terminated after two weeks on the job for what the AP said was “for violations of AP’s social media policies during her time at AP.”

In case you missed it, you can see the full story here. https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/24/media/associated-press-emily-wilder-reliable-sources/index.html.

(The link to the AP’s SMCC is included in the article).

Upon reading this article and others that analyzed the situation and story, the main issue was not that the AP did not have a SMCC, but a failure on multiple levels to properly implement the policy.

Here are five lessons from the AP situation that will help minimize your organizations’ risk of similar problems and the bad press and reputation damage that goes with it.

Develop and implement a process to ensure your SMCC remains current.

Your organization must have a SMCC, and it must reflect the current nature of social media usage for employers and employees.  In 2013, the AP was probably ahead of 90-95% of all other organization’s in the US by actually having developed a SMCC.  However, if the AP has not updated their SMCC since 2013, it is entirely inadequate and no better than that Strategic Plan that just sits on the shelf.  Whether you are a small or large business, you need to develop a process to review and update your SMCC regularly.  It may simply be a single policy owner responsible for this process or a SMCC Review Team.

Whichever the case, set a specific date or timeframe and include it in the organizational calendar at least once a year for such a review.  Also, when employment issues or termination regarding social media appear in the media, your organization can use those to ask the questions, “looking at our SMCC would we make the same mistake?”  While the annual review is critical, a mid-year adjustment may be needed when current situations arise that your SMCC may not address.

When revisions are made to the SMCC, ensure current employees are made aware of the updates.

Here are two ways to properly communicate revisions and updates of your SMCC to employees in the organization.  First, when modifications and updates are being considered, inform the employees of the changes and their rationale.  This can allow for constructive and informative Q&A to take place and receive helpful suggestions or even discover unintended consequences before implementation.  The most effective way to do this is personally.  If your organization is small enough, this can be accomplished at an all-employee meeting.  However, large organizations may need to parse this communication out to staff, divisions, or team meetings, still providing an opportunity for feedback to be considered.

This type of communication reinforces two valuable lessons;

  • Employee voices are influential and taken seriously, and
  • It indicates the SMCC is a vital part of the organization.

Second, make sure the most current version is on your website and included in your Employee Handbook. Also, share the SMCC via email with all employees announcing the revision or updates to have it for easy reference.  While the AP gets points for having the SMCC on their website, those points are lost because the policy wasn’t current, and they failed to move from plan to execution.

Ensure that the language is clear for employees to know the consequences of violating the SMCC.

There are several omissions from the AP’s 2013 SMCC, most notably how violations would be handled, including no reference to termination, review, probation, or an appeal process.  What seems to have raised the ire of the AP employees who crafted the letter of concern was there was no transparency of the process of how or why the decision was made to terminate the reporter.  More importantly, this was not even made clear according to the reporter herself.  This has led to speculation of outside influence, which pointed to previous posts before her employment with AP as a reason for her termination.

Ensure that the organization’s SMCC addresses employees’ pre-employment screening as part of the hiring process.

Another flaw in the AP’s SMCC is there is no reference to pre-employment screening as part of the vetting process or prerequisite for hiring or accountability of posts before employment.  In an earlier article, we discuss the importance of establishing a policy that is the basis for all hiring and monitoring processes related to Human Resource decisions.  The AP situation strengthens the advice of the article.

As stated, “Social media screening is an excellent tool for hiring the right employees and maintaining a staff that upholds company standards. Social media screening looks for red flags on the social media profiles of potential hires or established employees.

Creating a thorough code of conduct sets the standards and expectations to be upheld by HR during the hiring or monitoring process. Establishing these standards creates a reference for human resources during the hiring process and possible ongoing monitoring and ensures that everyone is on the same page.

These policies can minimize the potential risk of litigation.  If someone is not hire based or terminated for violating the clearly defined social media code of conduct, this provides cause for such decisions.  Also, make sure these policies are communicated in the initial hiring phases to potential employees and once someone is hired.”

Ensure that the organization has a clearly defined monitoring procedure of current employee social media accounts.

As we point out in this article on our blog, “[u]nconscious bias shows up throughout the hiring process.  Beginning in the job description, resume review, and interview process, the hiring agent, members of a search committee, and potentially continuing into the background screening process.   This is especially true if you are performing social media screening by reviewing the applicants’ social media profiles.”.

This is not only the case in the hiring process, but bias can be a factor when screening and reviewing current employees’ social media posts.  In that same article, we go on to share three ways to remove bias from the pre-employment or employment screening process;

1.) Establish standard guidelines and practices for social media screening,

2.) Use software to automate the initial review process, and

3.) Employ external third parties to perform screening.

For further details on these points and removing bias, click over to this article – https://socialmedia23.com/3-steps-for-removing-bias-in-social-media-screening/.

Once this information is gathered, it can then be presented to the employer, Human Resources, or Review Team to determine what, if any, action may need to be taken.

There you have it; five lessons to help you properly implement your SMCC.

Beginning with continual updates, deliberate communication, and finishing with a clear policy, each of these suggestions will help move you from the development to the implementation phase while minimizing the risk of your organization repeating the situation the AP faced.