Modern General Counsel: Top 6 things a social media policy must include for a growing business

If you are like most modern general counsel (GC), you may be questioning whether your social media policy is strong enough — if your organization has one at all.

Every opportunity that social media opens for customer outreach and business growth brings a variety of risks that your organization works to manage. As a small business lawyer, your work with business leaders to help the organization understand the impact — positive or negative — that social media can have on the business is vital to build guardrails for employee and business use.

A compelling starting point is crafting and maintaining a social media policy that is easy to understand, enforce, and adjust as the social media landscape evolves. Whether you’re general counsel for a small business who is building a new policy from scratch or improving an existing social media policy, you may find legal software such as Thomson Reuters Practical Law to be invaluable in creating a strong policy and conveying its relevance to your teams.

What a sound social media policy will address

Although social media policy examples may differ from business to business, it is helpful for a social media policy to address the following six components.

1. Guidelines for employee use of social media

A robust social media policy will include an entire section that deals with employees’ use of social media, laying out what is permissible and what is a violation of company policy.

The social media policy for employees will obviously cover not only how employees use social media to communicate externally but also how they use social tools to communicate internally at work. Be sure to put rules in place about what occurs when communications between employees become harassing, threatening, discriminating, or unlawful in some other way. This checklist may aid in developing your enforcement rules.

2. Terms of use

Companies often create customized pages on social media sites, such as a Facebook fan page or a YouTube channel. Considering that these pages are hosted on third-party platforms, you will want to review the terms of use and the privacy policies that govern these sites.

A solid social media policy will take the details of these terms of use into account to ensure the company’s pages stay in compliance. Be sure to outline procedures for monitoring the pages’ content and commentary, and for responding to problematic posts.

3. Procedures to mitigate damage

Your business needs to establish methods of monitoring pages for offensive or infringing posts, as well as procedures to mitigate the damage such posts could cause to branded pages. As GC, you may advise on dedicating staff time or hiring a third-party vendor to monitor each site and application for damaging content or infringements on intellectual property.

It’s important to lay out how to react to damaging content. Policies for how to respond can guide an internal response team comprising employees from a variety of areas of the company. This team can weigh the best action to take in each instance and create a coherent response that mitigates damage.

4. Endorsements and testimonials

When advertising or promoting on social media, your business may offer financial or other material benefits to influencers such as bloggers, vloggers, and social media figures. According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules on endorsements, companies must disclose the nature of relationships with endorsers and must advise endorsers to make such disclosures.

Accordingly, social media policies include guidelines for disclosing this information and guidance for how endorsers can do so as well. It’s also wise to have endorsers and influencers sign an agreement approving your terms.

Beyond the legal ramifications, failing to disclose this type of relationship may result in negative reactions from consumers who feel they have been misled about the nature of the relationship between the company and the endorser. This can cause reputational harm.

The FTC also stipulates that companies cannot advise an endorser or influencer who is doing a product review regarding what to say in the review or ask to edit the review. Effective policies on working with endorsers will reflect this guidance.

5. Securities-related risks

Companies using social media must ensure they are making disclosures that conform to applicable legal standards laid out in regulations from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

For example, selective disclosures on social media aimed at providing exclusive insight to industry or securities professionals could violate Regulation FD. Additionally, companies must follow Rule 10b-5 of the Exchange Act, which says that companies must make true statements that are not materially misleading.

To comply with these regulations, employees must be educated on insider trading rules and liabilities and they must be trained in what information they can and cannot communicate to the public.

6. Using social media in hiring decisions

Companies are increasingly using social media to inform hiring decisions and perform background checks on potential employees. These uses can inadvertently introduce bias into hiring procedures, making it important that the company’s policy addresses how to use social media in hiring without disadvantaging certain applicants. HR teams can also ensure that their use of social media complies with the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, as well as state equivalents.  

One danger of using social media for hiring is that information found on social sites may not be accurate or up to date. It is important that your policy require fact checking for any information found on social media.

The time is now

Creating a thorough social media policy is a necessity in today’s connected world. Thus, it’s paramount to create policies and procedures that are actionable and to train employees to follow appropriate guidelines. Doing so reduces the risk for your organization and also emphasizes your position as a trusted adviser to the business. With Thomson Reuters Practical Law, you have all the resources you need to create and maintain a solid social media policy.

Use this social media policy best practices checklist as a way to start.

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