Get A Social Media Policy Now!

If your yoga or wellness business has employees and if you are using social media or email to market your business, then you need to establish a social media policy to address a number of important legal and business issues.

Many companies encourage their employees to establish social media accounts and to directly engage with customers. Employees may publish blog articles, post photographs on Instagram or Facebook, and write articles for a wide number of social media platforms.  Most studios use newsletters to announce classes, retreats, yoga challenges, workshops, contests and other news. Many use employees to manage their social media platforms.

In other companies, employees mix business and personal use of social media. Employees may discuss management, staff, products and other matters relating to the company on their social media platforms. In both cases, a lack of guidance on the basic rules of proper communication may result in damage to a company’s reputation, loss of business, copyright infringement actions, and termination of employees. Many of these problems can be avoided by establishing social media policies.

All yoga studios and wellness businesses should adopt a social media policy. Social media policies are just as necessary as discrimination, leave, and vacation policies.

Why is this so? There are four main reasons.

Four Reasons Why You Need A Social Media Policy

1. To Protect Your Business Reputation

A social media policy is a guideline for employees to follow when they post about your company on social media networks. Even the best intentioned employee may need guidance on whether he or she should publish certain posts about your company. If an employee publishes a post that is damaging to your company’s reputation, it cannot be taken back. It will remain on the Internet for a very long time. If you employees know the rules and what is expected from them, they are less likely to make mistakes that cannot be fixed.

A social media policy is an opportunity to state clearly what standards of communication you expect.

2. To Educate Employees About Legal Issues

Generally, employers have the right to monitor their employees’ use of the Internet (including social media accounts, e-mails, and instant messaging) on corporate computers during employees’ on-duty hours. Employees need to understand that they have no right of privacy with respect to the social media posts that they make during the scope of their employment.

Employees must understand that corporate policies on anti-harassment, ethics and loyalty extend to social media both inside and outside the workplace. If an employee attacks or defames the company or harasses other employees online, it can lead to serious consequences work.

Employees need to understand that they cannot post trade secrets, proprietary information, or content that infringes the intellectual property belonging to another person.

For example, Getty Images has been very aggressive about finding unauthorized uses of its images in blog posts by yoga studios. The result is a demand letter and a legal obligation to pay a license fee and damages. This can lead to a bill of hundreds or thousands of dollars.

3. To Raise Awareness About Your Brand.

A social media policy can encourage your employees to post in positive ways that can enhance your brand. Rather than being a list of prohibitions, a social media policy can inspire your employees to help you meet your business goals. It can make sure that your employees are in alignment with the marketing goals and values of your company.

A social media policy can require that employees follow the company’s branding guidelines. These guidelines may govern the use of logos, trademarks, color schemes, or style guides.

A social media policy can educate your employees on how to talk about your business. What words do you use to describe your company and its business? Are there particular values or principles that you want associated with your business? On the other hand, are there things that you do not want associated with your business?

4. To Establish Ownership of Your Social Media Accounts

A social media policy can establish that the company, rather than its employees, own the social media accounts and the followers. It is becoming common for disputes between companies and employees to develop over ownership of social media accounts when an employee leaves the business. This is because employees may have spent significant time building up the social media platforms and may  feel that they should own the accounts. 

Ten Benefits of a Social Media Policy

If you are inspired to adopt a social media policy, then what are the areas that a good social medial policy should cover? What are the benefits to having a social media policy?

Here are ten key issues to consider:

1. It creates a safe process and communication path for employees to share their concerns and problems at the office with management before taking them online. It is much better to solve personnel problems in-house on a confidential basis, rather than exposing them online.

2. It establishes what the company considers confidential information that may not be discussed publicly or posted online. It clearly describes when employees need approval before posting certain types of information. This could include corporate trade secrets, financial information, business plans, documents subject to non-disclosure agreements, content that may infringe intellectual property rights, and similar matters.

3. It establishes clear consequences of an employee’s online behavior. This gives the employee fair notice of the standard of behavior that the company expects, and will put the company in a stronger position if it needs to discipline or terminate an employee for improper posting.

4. It appoints a company spokesperson who is responsible for answering questions about your company on social media or to the press. Employees should have a clear understanding of those sensitive areas they should not discuss or comment on. They should be required to refer them to a company spokesman.

5. It establishes the proper way for employees to engage with others online, especially in those situations that are inflammatory, hostile or potentially damaging to the company’s business. The policy should encourage employees to be polite and agree to disagree with others, especially on Facebook, and Twitter where disputes can go viral very quickly.

6. It discusses illegal conduct. This involves educating employees about the proper use of trademarks and publication of copyrighted material. Posts that comment on legal matters or that are beyond the poster’s expertise should not be published. Misleading or inaccurate information should not be posted. Confidential information and trade secrets should not be posted.

7. It reflects the company’s culture and shows employees how to talk about its culture and values in a positive and honest way. Your social media policy is a great place to articulate your company’s culture and values. Since the conversation between companies, employees and their customers has moved to the Internet and social media, it is important for companies to extend their communications policies to include the Internet.

8. It educates and trains employees about their social media responsibilities. This can go a long way in getting people to think about the content of their post and the potential reactions to their post, before they click “send.”

9. As more companies recognize the brand value created through social media platforms, there is greater interest in owning corporate social media accounts and retaining the follower base that builds up over time. However, because many employees use social media accounts at work, they may believe that the accounts they use during work hours are not company property but are their own personal property. 

If the company wants to own the social media accounts and prevent conflicts with employees over ownership of the accounts, the social media policy will establish company ownership.

10. It shows employees how to respond when they make a mistake in a post. The employee should be the first to respond to the mistake. The employee should be up front about the mistake and correct it quickly to restore trust. If it is necessary to correct the content, such as by editing a blog post, the employee should make it clear that it has done so.

Terminating Employees For Posting Negative Information  About Your Company

The right of employees to post information about their employment is protected by federal law. This means that you, in many cases, cannot fire an employee for posting hostile, negative, critical and even obscene information about you or your company.

Some states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, North Dakota and New York, have laws that prohibit employers from disciplining an employee based on off-duty publications on social media platform, unless they can be shown to damage the company in some way. There are also federal laws that restrict employers in the same way.

In 1935, Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) to protect the rights of employees and employers.  The NLRA is administered by the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”).

Under the NLRA, employers may not discipline employees for comments made on social media platforms regarding their employment, unless the employee’s behavior is so outrageous that it loses the protection of the NLRA. 

What is the boundary line of permissible behavior by employees before they lose the protection of the NLRA?

The Board has ruled on several cases and its General Counsel has issued several Memos to provide guidance. In general, these statements balance the right for an employee to publish employment-related speech on social media platforms as protected speech under the NLRA against the employer’s right to protect its business reputation.

Employers must consider disciplining employees for social media communications very carefully. Because the law is rapidly evolving,  employers cannot rely on their common sense judgment alone to guide them; they should get legal guidance before taking any action against an employee for his or her behavior on social media.

Here is where you can get additional information about the NLRB:

https://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/news-story/acting-general-counsel-issues-second-social-media-report

https://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/fact-sheets/nlrb-and-social-media

Samples of Good Social Media Policies

The Gap and TNT are considered to have very good social media polices. Here are the links:

http://groundfloormedia.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Socialmedia@gap.pdf

https://www.tnt.com/content/dam/corporate/pdfs/Archive/Presentations/2014/tnt_social_media_employee-guidelines_2014en.pdf

Additional Resources on Social Media

I have prepared a comprehensive package of materials on social media policies. This package contains Social Media Guidelines prepared for yoga studios, a Code of Conduct for yoga teachers (which may be included within the Social Media Guidelines), guidance on how you can make sure you own the social media accounts you are using for your business, guidance on how to draft a legal social media policy under the NLRA, and resources on social media policies and best practices.

The package is a PDF and the documents may be copied and pasted into Word or other word processing program. These materials are available for purchase for $10.00. Click on this link if you want to purchase this package:

http://garykissiah.com/legal-agreements/