You Broke the Social Media Policy – You\’re Fired!

How important is your social media policy? Let\’s ask Wal-Mart – one of the largest corporations in the world, which fired a Sam\’s Club employee over a public post on Facebook which violated its social media policy. Walmart was then sued by that employee for discrimination, a charge which was thrown out by a court that held Walmart was in the right to terminate the employee.



You can read more about the WalMart case here on Brian Wassom\’s Law and Social Media Blog, or download the summary pdf. 

But not all social media policies have to be legal documents. Take Intel\’s social media policy for example. It\’s really just a few guidelines spelled out for users on how to engage, disclose, and protect; citing the use of common sense at all times.

Social media policies aren\’t just for large corporations, they\’re for nonprofits too. In fact, they might be more important for nonprofits because of that type of organization\’s heavy reliance on volunteer work forces and temporary employees – many of whom operate with little supervision and who can have high levels of access to an organization\’s confidential information.


Why Create a Social Media Policy?

A social media policy is a necessity in today\’s corporate and nonprofit world. The fact is, more and more people are using social media, at home, at work, and on mobile phones and tablets.

Social media has become enmeshed in all our lives. We check the Facebook walls of our friends during dinner, exchange text message while we drive (be honest – you know you do it), and according to a new media study – Americans spend an average of nearly 3.2 hours a day using social media.

Separating our social online lives from our work lives is getting tougher and tougher, and companies, including nonprofits, must be sensitive to this fact, and understand how a social media policy can help protect its employees and the organization as a whole.


What Can a Social Media Policy Do for Your Organization?

For one, a social media policy sets expectations – the cornerstone of any good work plan. It tells employees and volunteers what is expected of them, and the things in which they should not participate. Laying out simple, clear rules can mitigate potential problems with employees and the public.

A social media policy can reinforce the company\’s policy against harassing, discriminatory, obscene, or malicious conduct.

A social media policy that outlines what can be shared and what should not be shared online will help maintain a nonprofit\’s brand recognition. Nonprofits large and small work extremely hard to build up a reputation of doing good work in the community, and many organizations rely on public donations to continue operations. Just a few errant posts can tear down that good will quickly. Nonexistent or vague policies that do not spell out what people can or cannot share might also result in  diminished brand recognition – or worse – it can harm the nonprofits reputation, both online and off.

A social media policy can help employees better understand the impact of their actions online. Social media is both immediate and permanent – and people need to be reminded of this. That picture you post of a co-worker can\’t be taken back once its on the web and shared through public social media channels.

For some, just having a better understanding of the term \”social media\” can go a long way. For instance, Vimm reports one of the reasons Minnesota nonprofit Project Turnabout created its social media policy  was to \”overcome the lack of understanding and misconceptions about social media and its tools.\” Since it\’s inception, the number of staff using social media has increased, along with awareness about the organization, and its ability to quickly address social media posts that might conflict with its policy or the confidentiality of its patients.


Social Media Policies Are Not Just Another Set of Rules

Social media policies don\’t have to be just another set of rules for your employees and volunteers to which they must adhere. The Red Cross choose to infuses its social media guidelines with common sense language and tries to impress upon its employees the idea of disclosure and transparency.

Ford Motor Company chooses to use the same idea of common sense throughout its policy as well – citing it\’s a new medium but the same rules of life apply – be courteous to other people, and when in doubt – ask; two concepts at the core of great customer service.



Before creating your social media policy do some research. Study the policies of other organizations in your industry, and determine whether your goal is to protect yourself legally, to educate employees about social media, to promote common sense usage, or all of the above. If necessary, seek the input of an attorney experienced with employment law and social media policies.

You can also join our free webinar on social media policies for nonprofits, where we\’ll discuss the elements of several nonprofit social media policies and discuss how you can create your own in just a few simple steps.

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