As a new company, particularly one established to monitor and screen social media activity of potential candidates for employment, I felt it imperative that Social Media 23 should have a Social Media Code of Conduct for its employees. Therefore, I set out on the journey to create such a Code of Conduct for Social Media 23.
This article includes information about:
- How I went about the process,
- What I discovered about other organizations and institutions existing codes of conduct or policies,
- How I developed the Social Media Code of Conduct for Social Media 23, and ultimately,
- What institutions and organizations need to know in developing, reevaluating and updating their own Social Media Code of Conduct or Employee Social Media Usage Policy.
One of the first rules I abide by is, never reinvent the wheel, unless you have too. It is an axiom I learned from reading Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
As Kuhn indicates, existing templates, patterns, and paradigms are good. This rule led to the first step in the process: looking to use someone else’s wheel. I asked:
- Are there already Social Media Codes of Conduct (SMCC) that exist?
- What existing clients have an SMCC / or policy in place?
- Can I review these SMCC examples and utilize them as a template?
After reviewing websites of numerous organizations and institutions; both large and small, I was surprised to find that many, but not all, had some form of an SMCC for their employees.
Unfortunately, many of the codes of conduct provide only oversight of employee use of official organization/institution social media platforms. Fewer of these organizations had an SMCC that referenced personal social media usage beyond the organization, which is where an enormous amount of the risk of social media behavior lives.
However, of those organizations that did have some form of SMCC for personal usage, they provided significant insight as to the expectations these organizations had for their employees in protecting their reputation and brand image.
What I discovered from those SMCC that did reference personal accounts was a prohibition regarding text and images related to:
- Sexual activity
- Illegal activity (i.e., drug usage, including paraphernalia, underage alcohol use dangerous alcohol consumption, etc.)
- Derogatory or threatening comments toward fellow employees, clients and other people in general
- An activity that could endanger the well-being of an individual
- Negative comments about the organization.
Those organizations that had such personal usage components within their SMCC indicated that violation of the code or policies could lead to termination.
During this investigation process, I discovered that no one SMCC was exhaustive or served as a single template for Social Media 23 to utilize. It turned out that constructing an SMCC for our company was going to be a piecemeal approach.
I took the best from each code of conduct I reviewed, including language that described the same prohibition but more comprehensively and thoughtfully. In the future, I am quite sure that I will come across another organization’s SMCC and I will glean new information or language and then will incorporate into ours.
If you are an organization that currently does not have an SMCC that references either professional or personal usage you should undoubtedly consider developing one. Such a document can provide the organization legal protection if social media becomes a factor for not hiring a candidate or terminating an employee for improper social media postings.
In discussing this issue with clients and prospective clients, I have been surprised how many of them had terminated an employee for improper social media posts but had no code of conduct that prohibited such activity. Such actions can undoubtedly leave the door open for litigation for wrongful termination.
Having an SMCC protects the organization and makes the current and future employees aware of the organization’s expectations.
If you are an organization that has a Social Media Code of Conduct with professional and personal usage language in them, keep them current. As I was reviewing one organization’s Code of Conduct, which did have professional and personal usage sections, I suspected it had not been updated in years when I noticed it referenced “My Space.”
An individual, group or division needs to be responsible for developing a continuous review and updating of the SMCC. No SMCC can be future proofed which will require ongoing review to ensure new platforms or modes of conveying social media information are taken into consideration. Therefore, the SMCC does not have to be exhaustive, but certainly does need to be current.
Finally, when an SMCC is developed and updated, communication of this fact with current and future employees is imperative.
Ten years ago, and for some organizations even five years ago, it would have been hard to imagine the need for an SMCC. However, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out, there will always be paradigm shifts. It is hard to imagine why an organization would not have an SMCC.
Need assistance in putting together or updating your organizations’ SMCC? Let’s talk about your needs and how to mitigate the risk of social media.