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Friday, June 15, 2012

More Reason NOT to Have a Social Media Policy

I've written about this before in various posts, and as time goes by I am more convinced than ever.  Your company or organization should not have a Social Media policy. 

Now this isn't a popular idea.  Two or three seminar companies a week send me an invitation to a seminar on how to write such a policy.  Law firms have now gotten into the act with seminars and labor law letters giving you guidance on how to make your policy better.  If you are in HR your exec team and/or your General Counsel may be asking you what you are doing about your Social Media policy, begging the question as to if one should exist in the first place.

So now that a few months have passed and more and more organizations have gotten on the policy bandwagon, the NLRB just made almost all of almost everybody's policy illegal. A recent report covered in the SHRM newsletter undercut even the most seemingly reasonable provisions because they had to the potential to violate employees' right of free association and protected union organizing. 

So how did this happen?  How could so many smart people be so wrong on this issue.  Simple: our nations labor laws are industrial-era and outdated, and social media policies are written in the context of modern technology.  They are also written by a new generation of lawyers and HR staffers who don't understand how the government views employee rights and employment issues.

If you read the report you'll see that the overall theme in the NLRB's objections is that the written restrictions on social media speech are typically overreaching and encroach on free speech. This affirms what I've been saying for the last few years: social media is simply another communications channel.  It may be a game-changer channel, but it is still simply a new type of channel. 

That is important because as an HR practitioner you already have a tool in effect at your company which administers your company policies on how employees communicate.  It is your Employee Handbook.  Handbook templates and manuals are written, by and large, by companies and consultants who understand how the government thinks.  They are last-gen and old tech so their rules and restrictions are legal in the government's eyes. This is also why they are typically so totally boring to read.  But they don't overreach the way social media policies do, and as such they are your best tool in dealing with employee behavior through social media.

Your Handbook should have policies about employee handling of confidential information.It should also have policies about gossip, wasting time at work (like surfing Facebook on the job), employee relationships with each other and management, who is authorized to speak for the Company, etc... 

Opinions on social media tend to fall into two camps; those who use it outside the corporate environment tend to feel that there should be no restrictions at all, while those in high-control management environments think no employee use should be allowed except to promote the company.  The common-sense middle ground, for HR practitioners and managers, is to save the money you would spend on buying, writing and/or enforcing a social media policy and just use your Handbook.

If you disagree I invite you to Reply to this blog with an issue in your workplace.  I'll bet there's a Handbook policy that covers it and I'll prove it to you.