Practical advice about workplace social media rules

Many farm businesses, especially those that are diversified, use social media for marketing, public relations and feedback from customers, but how many have considered the effect their employees’ social media activity might have?

Most people have some sort of social media presence, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or others and it is commonplace for people to share all aspects of their lives, good and bad, and that will often include their working lives.

Many users have been brought up with social media, so business owners and managers should adapt and embrace it. By doing so they will help to protect their business and demonstrate to staff that they are media savvy.

The best thing any business can do is to inform employees of the business rules surrounding social media and make sure everyone is aware of them. Having a sensible social media policy in place is seen as another aspect of managing business risk.

Some businesses have taken the step of having a complete ban on all social media activity in the workplace, however this can be seen as an overbearing approach.

Reasons to have social media policy:

  • Helps protect a business against liability for the actions of its employees – this is essential for all businesses, particularly with the rise in claims in recent years.
  • Provides clear guidelines for employees on what their boundaries are and what you as a business will and won’t tolerate.
  • Helps employees draw a line between their personal and professional lives.
  • Helps to comply with the law on discrimination and data protection.

A social networking policy can help an organisation to manage performance effectively but should not add an additional obstacle. Policies should be clear, concise and specific to avoid doubt or misinterpretation and should include:

  • Network security for workplace equipment (controls in relation to downloading of software, viruses).
  • Acceptable behaviour in relation to internet and email usage, smart phones, social networking sites and blogging and tweeting – this may also have health and safety implications in relation to employees using devices while operating vehicles or farm machinery.
  • A distinction between the use of social media for business and personal use, for example if employees are allowed to access social media for personal use during breaks or work time.
  • Clear guidance on what employees can and cannot say about the organisation. For example, some employers ask for employees to seek prior authorisation from management before any comments are made about the organisation outside of the company sites/pages.
  • Reference to laws and rules on discrimination, data protection and protecting the health of employees.
  • Clear wording in relation to sensitive issues like monitoring of use and explanation of how disciplinary rules and sanctions will be applied.
  • Business objectives – increasing numbers of businesses are integrating social media into their business strategy to promote brand and reputation awareness.
  • Policy enforcement – employees need to be aware of the consequences of breaching the policy in terms of potential disciplinary action.


How to introduce a social media policy

Consultation – consult employees on plans to implement a policy. This way the employees will feel included. They should feel it is fair as they have had input and the business will be more likely to get their support.

Communication – many employees won’t know whether their employer has an internet policy. Rapidly changing technology means policies need to be reviewed regularly with any changes communicated to staff. Communication by social media is a way for a business to show it embraces social media and is a good way to raise awareness of it.

Introduction – for new staff, induction is the perfect time to make them aware of the boundaries surrounding internet/social media usage. Existing employees should be notified of the new policy in writing and it is good practice to ask them to acknowledge receipt and that they have read and understood the new policy.

Other policies – make sure any social media policy links with other policies and procedures, for example – email policies/internet rules, disciplinary procedures and so on.

Social media risk – an example 

An employee had a minor accident at work in which he damaged his finger while doing a regular job. The correct procedures were followed in terms of treatment and recording the accident, but the employee concerned decided to “Facebook” the incident and state the accident was caused by faulty equipment. This was unfounded and not the case.

While the employee may well have accessed Facebook in his own time, the content could have brought the company into disrepute and this is unacceptable behaviour.

The allegation could have been damaging to the clients’ professional reputation, potentially causing loss of confidence, not only with other employees but also with customers.

On this occasion the employer did not take any further action with the employee, partly because they believed the allegation to be unfounded and partly because they did not have a social media policy in place. 

More on this topic

Do you have a question about employer social media policies or documentation? Rachael Walsh-Grant is Safety Revolution’s human resources services manager and will answer queries on these issues soon – post your questions online by 11 October and Rachael will respond shortly after.

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