Updating Your Corporate Social Media Policy

Updating Your Corporate Social Media Policy

In recent years, social media has become a critical part of our corporate strategies as well as an important part of our personal lives, but when those two become intertwined, lines can get crossed. On this episode of ProjectHR, Bob Oberstein will explain why corporate social media policies should be routinely updated and will explore:

  • The changes prompting Social Media Policy updates;
  • Coordinating your Social Media Policy with your other corporate policies;
  • The importance of take down protocols; and
  • How to communicate your company Social Media Policy to employees!
Company Social Media Policies

Bob Oberstein

   Arbitrator, Mediator, Facilitator, and Investigator

“It's best to tell employees about what all their obligations and all your obligations as the employer are, upfront, right away, so everybody knows.”


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Policy - or Policies? 

  • Your Social Media Policy must coordinate with other corporate policies, including your policies relating to discipline, honesty, and intellectual property, just to name a few. 
  • It must also take into consideration employee rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Any time you put a restriction on what an employee can do or say, on the job or off, you must be aware of what is not enforceable under Section 7.


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Defining “Social Media”

  • Mr. Oberstein defines social media as any communication that requires the use of a keyboard or a device.

How Frequent Should Social Media Policies Be Updated?

  • We live in a rapidly changing world, and policies should always be reviewed on a regular basis.
  • Many organizations update after 3-5 years - but that was the old normal. 
  • The new normal, based on recent events, Mr. Oberstein suggests updating policies every two years.

Changes Prompting Social Media Policy Updates

  • COVID-19: Thanks to the pandemic, we now have an extraordinary amount of work being done via social media of all kinds.
  • The NLRA and Union Organizing Efforts Using Social Media: This applies to not just unions approaching employees through social media, but also employees approaching employees, because that is also protected activity. A good social media policy under the National Labor Relations Act is a policy that gives good, clear examples of what is permissible and what is not permissible, and lets employees know what their rights are.
  • “It's best to tell employees about what all their obligations and all your obligations as the employer are, upfront, right away, so everybody knows.”

Best Practice Elements of Social Media Policies

  • Use clear, illustrated examples;
  • Make sure it meshes well with other corporate policies;
  • Employee training on the policy should begin at Day One!

Cybersecurity, Trade Secrets and Copyrights

  • Employees should be trained by the employer's cyber security team, regarding social media measures and monitoring, emphasizing best practices.
  • If you have policies on copyrights and trade secrets, this is one of those meshing situations where it has to mesh with your social media policy.
  • This is about keeping company information confidential as well as maintaining the confidentiality of our clients.
  • It’s also about respecting the copyrights of others, including the used of licensed images, etc. on things as innocuous as email signatures and internal Powerpoint presentations.

Take Down Protocols

  • Take down protocols must be established in your social media policy, because the organization is responsible for what's out there and they can be held liable.
  • The policy should, again, provide clarity and examples to set expectations.
  • Companies have a responsibility to not only establish those protocols, but also to monitor their media around the clock, to stay ahead of any inappropriate messaging.
  • Organizations must also be very sensitive to the need for consistency in take down policy enforcement!
  • Companies must maintain a “take down team”, and it must include not only the people responsible for maintaining that policy, but also the company’s legal or law department.

Setting Expectations

  • Your Social Media Policy may tell employees:
  • What they CAN’T say on Social Media;
  • What they CAN or SHOULD say;
  • Specific wording to use when engaging on Social Media.
  • Disclosure of Employee Status: Employers may require employees to include a “disclaimer” of sorts on Social Media posts that include company references, to be upfront about the fact that this message is coming from a company employee.

Are Social Media Policies an Infringement of Free Speech?

  • Public Employees: Everything done by a public employee is public record - but public employers, in general, do have to uphold free speech and privacy rights as part of their mandates.
  • Private Employees: They have the freedom to restrict certain types of speech.
  • For both kinds of employees, it’s important here for employers to set an expectation of privacy, which needs to not only be clearly stated in a policy is discussed, but consistently practiced.
  • Privacy also gets into the area of public relations, specifically with things like photographs. Sometimes people will put a photograph of somebody that they know, or an organization will put a photograph of happy customers at a picnic, but they will fail to get permission prior to posting. The laws on this vary from state to state, so organizations need to be very, very careful. If a company uses someone’s picture on social media without getting the necessary permissions, there's a great possibility that they have violated that person’s right to publicity - so employers need to be sensitive to that.

Communicating Your Social Media Policy

  • Train employees on the policy from Day One, during onboarding.
  • Continue to communicate that policy on a regular basis, including when changes are made (but even when they are not).
  • The more clear you are in communication, the less gray area you're going to have in all situations work or personal. 
  • Periodic retraining alongside communication has to take place, because lax behavior and bad habits must be corrected and memories often need to be refreshed.

Returning To Practice

  • Mr. Oberstein is available as an investigator, a neutral investigator, as well as a mediator and arbitrator, a trainer and an educator.
  • Many of his mediations involve complex situations, including:
  • Labor and management;
  • Construction disputes;
  • Commercial disputes; as well as 
  • Disputes in the financial industry, among others.
  • Many of his arbitration decisions have been published for use by other arbitrators. 

Bob Oberstein Backstory

  • B.A. in English from St. John’s University 
  • M.S. in Social Science (Labor Studies) from Long Island University
  • Master of Jurisprudence, Labor and Employment Law from Tulane University Law School
  • Began his career as a Labor Relations Administrator with the City of Phoenix
  • Served as a self-employed neutral Fact Finder, Mediator, and Arbitrator/Hearing Officer
  • Most recently served as Labor Relations Manager for the Snohomish County Public Utility
  • Mr. Oberstein is currently resurrecting his practice as a neutral Arbitrator, Mediator, Facilitator, and Investigator.


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