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Q & A

How to create a social media policy for your small business

Elaine Howell

With offices in London and Hampshire, Plus HR provides HR consultancy and outsourced HR services to businesses great and small. Elaine Howell is its HR manager and here she explains why your business should have a social media policy and how to create one.

How challenging has managing social media become for businesses?

Elaine Howell (EH): “I don’t think it’s as big a problem as some would have you believe. Some of our clients encourage their employees to use social media at work to engage existing and potential customers. There are lots of workplace distractions that need managing and some can be much more damaging to productivity.

“Businesses must be realistic. Most of us have a smartphone these days and many of us are active on social media. Employees will use social media. Trying to ban social media completely isn’t realistic. If you’re too Draconian, enforcement can become impossible and waste lots of your time as a manager.”

But how could a small business suffer if it fails to manage social media use?

EH: “If it’s excessive and not for work purposes, yes, it could damage productivity and, in some cases, quality may suffer if staff are distracted by social media. Another risk is online bullying by other staff, because some people do not realise that certain behaviour outside of work may become the employer’s responsibility. Unfavourable social media posts about the employer or other things that reflect badly on the business may also present a significant risk.”

How does having a social media policy help a small business?

EH: “It provides a framework, so employees know what’s acceptable – and what isn’t. Work is more flexible now; people are working from home more; their hours are less rigid; which can boost productivity, but it can make it even more difficult to manage their social media use. Having a simple policy can prevent unreasonable social media use during work time, and reputational damage caused by ill-advised social media posts.

“In some jobs and businesses, using social media can be much more disruptive, in which case more guidance may be necessary. I don’t think it’s wise or realistic to ban staff from using social media, but you can and should set reasonable boundaries.”

What things should be covered by a social media policy?

EH: “Basically, what’s reasonable use and what’s unacceptable. To lessen risk, some employers ask employees not to mention the company in their social media profiles or posts. If they’re allowed to use social media to help promote the business, usually posts must be approved in advance.”

What key elements should be included in a social media policy?

EH: “It shouldn’t be a thick document crammed with a long list of ‘don’ts’. No one will read it. Simplicity is advised. Be as comprehensive yet concise as possible. Aim for no more than a few pages.

“Explain why it’s important for your business to have a social media policy, and then cover the parameters within which using social media is acceptable. Include examples to illustrate. Any HR policy must be fair and reasonable, and – crucially – it must be applied consistently, with rules applying to everyone who works for the business.”

What sanctions can such a policy include?

EH: “Your policy should not only explain what unacceptable social media use is, but also what your business will do about it. That will involve using your disciplinary policy, and for serious misuse of social media, your sanction could ultimately lead to dismissal, as long as you follow the steps within your disciplinary processes, which must be legal.

“Bringing an employer into serious disrepute is classed as gross misconduct in most policies. Employees should also know that criticising the company, its clients, products, services or their colleagues on social media is not permitted – even in their own time.”

How should I go about creating such a policy?

EH: “Some small businesses draw up their own social media policy, especially those with a more experienced HR manager. Others might buy a ready-made policy or template, which they adapt. You may choose to get support from an HR consultancy like ours. Acas provides free online advice to small businesses on workplace social media use and policies.

“You need something that’s tailored to your own circumstances. You might need something more restrictive or more open than another business. A business that encourages social media use will have a very different policy to one that discourages it. Don’t take chances; reach out for support if required.”

How should I introduce my social media policy?

EH: “First make sure that your policy doesn’t contravene other policies. If so, amend them. The same might be true of your employee handbook, but remember – you must consult with employees if contractual changes are required. If not, sit down with staff and explain why your business needs a social media policy and how it applies to them. Better still, let them contribute when creating your policy, because getting employee buy-in can help to ensure greater success.”

Any final words of advice about social media policies?

EH: “Make sure your policy is as broad as possible. While mentioning specific examples, explain that it applies to all social media platforms and online presence, including chat rooms and forums, because new ones are being introduced all the time. Your policy should be totally clear about your expectations of employees. And, as with your other HR policies, review it at least once a year, because things can change, especially when it comes to social media.”

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