Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Have you ignored federal guidance on your social media policy?

One of the earliest organizational responses to social media was the "social media policy," because surely this potentially unfettered arena must be roped off for professionals. Except for Microsoft, which famously had a one-line guidance--"all the other policies apply"--social media policies tell me a lot about the organization and what they fear will happen on social channels when employees take to them.

The primary problem with limiting what employees may do on social media, or even guiding it: Much of the guidance that you want to convey is, in fact, forbidden by U.S. federal government rules--stuff like "don't say anything negative about the organization" or "your posts must be accurate." Yeah, really.

So before you start writing that social media policy, it may save you time and trouble to learn what the U.S. federal government has to say about how that policy should look. I find far too many communicators unfamiliar with these rules and guidance documents, and the penalties are real. Here are 3 major sets of guidance you should know about:
  1. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently reminded influencers, including but not limited to athletes and celebrities, that their sponsored content or endorsements on social media must be clearly identified as such. Here's the "educational letter" sent out, so you can see what the rules require. This includes, among other things, affiliate links.
  2. The National Labor Relations Board limits what employers can put in policies to limit employee use of social media. You can't tell employees that they cannot post inaccurate or inappropriate material, discuss non-public information, and much more. Labor Dish has a good rundown on the decisions that shape this guidance, and a sample policy based on it. These first two sets of guidance are applicable to the broadest group of organizations and companies.
  3. The Securities and Exchange Commission has extensive rules on social media use by broker-dealers, investors, and more. Here's a comprehensive guide to social media and the securities law.
I've seen conference presentations by the FTC on their policies for bloggers and other social influencers, so here's a #protip: Ask them to send a speaker to your next professional gathering and get the gang up to speed. And if you want to consider alternatives to a strict set of rules, read Trust your employees, not your rulebook to learn how to avoid dampening entirely your team's willingness to participate.

Don't get caught unprepared, speechless, or without a message, but do catch me on Twitter, on Google+, and on the don't get caught page on Facebook--all great places to add your comments to the discussion. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Speakers & Communicators, to make sure you don't miss a thing on my blogs and get the first news about new workshops and projects.

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