Rob Swystun, Pristine Advisers
I’ve written before about why a company needs a social media policy, as I’ve been involved with a situation where a company not having one affected it negatively.
But with more companies joining social media all the time (probably because they keep being told they’re supposed to be on it), it’s worth taking a look at the reasons why a company should have a social media policy before jumping on board.
As Phil Mennie, global social media risk and governance leader with PricewaterhouseCoopers, points out in a column for Smart Business, a social media policy should encourage employees to use social media and not just outline the punishments that will be handed out for posts it doesn’t approve of.
As much as Mennie laments the terrible social media policies he’s seen over the years, he’s downright shocked that some companies don’t even have one yet.
Here are five risks a company unnecessarily takes if it doesn’t have a social media policy:
1. Data Breaches: In today’s ‘share everything’ culture some employees may not be aware that there are some things a company definitely doesn’t want to share, at least not in an unauthorized social media post.
Some of those things include personal information about customers or commercial information that is sensitive like financial performance or planned mergers and acquisitions.
2. Cyber Attacks: Using social media to scam people has been around almost as long as social media has existed. Criminals are among the first people to jump on new technology to see how they can use it to their advantage.
Scammers have infiltrated popular business social media site LinkedIn, according to security firm Symantec, posting fake profiles and cozying up to people to entice users to give up personal details, direct them to websites waiting to infect their computers with malware and, if they can get people’s email addresses, launch spear-phishing campaigns, which are targeted emails that aim to steal personal information.
Some of these fake profiles are quite obvious. For example, I recently had a connection request from a LinkedIn profile that sported a photo of a comely, young lass and not much else. Aside from working for herself (of course), the sole piece of personal information displayed on the profile was that she held a Master’s degree … from an elementary school.
However, even though cyber criminals aren’t always the brightest, some of your employees may not be that bright, either. That’s why your social media policy should address the risk of cyber criminals, provide examples of tactics they may use and how to spot a fake account (if you’re a male and you receive a connection request out of the blue from a beautiful woman who has minimal info on her profile, that’s a thousand red flags right there) and what employees can do to protect the company (generally, report the profile to whatever social network you’re on).
3. Damage to Reputation: Arguing with customers or posting inappropriate or offensive content are just two ways employees might damage your company’s reputation, even if they do it unintentionally. Many a company reputation has been sullied by company social media accounts posting inappropriate things even when they are trying to do good. And once it’s out there, it’s too late to take it back. You can try to delete it, but someone has already screenshotted it.
4. Abuse: Whether it’s abuse of a fellow employee or abuse of a customer, some people see social media as a kind of wild west free-for-all where they can and do say anything. Your social media policy should have a zero tolerance approach to any kind of abuse or bullying and should also outline the process for reporting incidents of abuse and how those incidents are dealt with.
5. Loss of Competitive Advantage: This is as much about having a social media plan as a policy, for without one, your company is at a disadvantage at this stage of the game, both with engaging your customers and attracting new talent.
As Mennie reminds us, a social media policy should be about encouraging positive behavior by encouraging employees to use social media effectively to engage customers and others in conversations about your company’s products, services and other topics affecting your industry.
6. Loss of Control Over Dismissals: This one comes from my own personal experience. If you don’t have a social media policy in place, and an employee does make a post that you deem worthy of dismissal from the company, you really have nothing to point to as a reason for dismissal. The employee could easily take their case to your local labor board and you’ll likely end up paying out a fat severance package to make them go away quietly if you really want to get rid of them. With a policy in place, you have every right to dismiss them if they’ve contravened it.
Mennie likens a company without a social media policy to a car without brakes because it’s an accident waiting to happen. It’s not quite that bad, though. You can’t actually drive a car without brakes. Using a vehicle analogy, a company without a social media policy is more akin to a car with a cracked windshield. You can still drive it and you may not even notice it, but at any given moment, it could turn into the catalyst for a terrible crash.