Your Agency Doesn’t Need a Social Media Policy

As time goes by, I am more convinced than ever that your agency should not have a separate social media policy.

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This isn’t a popular idea. A workgroup for the Agent’s Council for Technology (ACT) spent many hours developing a sample social media policy for agencies to use as a template.

As the use of social platforms increases, concerns arise on how best to monitor and police use within agency organizations. Many seminars exist on how to write such a policy. Law firms can even give you guidance on how to make your existing policy better. You may have people in your own organization who are asking what you are doing about your social media policy.

Because so many organizations have created—and enforced—social media policies, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has taken notice. Over the last couple of years, they have taken on individual cases to determine which policies are legal, and which are not, and have issued several reports.

NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon recently issued a third report on social media cases, this time focusing exclusively on policies governing the use of social media by employees. In this report, the NLRB made almost everybody’s social media policy illegal. It undercut even the most seemingly reasonable provisions because they had the potential to violate employees’ rights to free association and union organizing.

How did this happen? How could so many smart people be so wrong on this issue?

It’s quite simple: our current labor laws were created in the industrial-era and are outdated. Existing social media policies are crafted in the context of modern technology. They are also written by a new generation of lawyers and HR staff who don’t understand how the government views employee rights and employment issues.

The overall theme in the NLRB report is that the written restrictions on social media speech are typically overreaching and encroach on free speech. This confirms that social media is simply another communications channel. It may be a game-changer channel, but it is still simply a new type of channel.

This is why I have encouraged organizations to have an “Electronic Communications Policy” as part of their existing employee handbook. Handbook templates and manuals are written, by and large, by companies and consultants who understand how the government thinks. They are last-gen and old tech so their rules and restrictions are legal in the government’s eyes. This is also why they are typically so boring to read. But they don’t overreach the way existing social media policies do, and as such, they are the best tool to use in dealing with employee behavior through social media.

Your handbook should have policies about employee handling of confidential information. It should also have policies about gossip, wasting time at work (like surfing Facebook on the job), employee relationships with each other and management, who is authorized to speak for the company, etc.

Opinions on social media tend to fall into two camps: those who use it outside the corporate environment tend to feel that there should be no restrictions at all, while those in high-control management environments (bank-owned agencies?) think no employee should be allowed to use it except to promote the company. The common-sense middle ground for agency owners and managers is to save the money you would spend on buying, writing, and/or enforcing a social media policy and just use your existing handbook.

If you disagree, I invite you to reply to this article with an issue you’ve faced in your workplace. I’ll bet there’s a handbook policy that covers it—and I’ll prove it to you.

Steve Anderson provides information to insurance agents about how they can use technology to increase revenue and/or reduce expenses. He speaks professionally to hundreds of agents each year on the future of technology, the social web, and how insurance agencies can establish their Internet presence.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Your Agency Doesn’t Need a Social Media Policy

  1. Brent, thanks for your comment. I do agree that the various social platforms are “just another way to communication and build relationships.”

  2. Steve, Great thoughts here. I think agencies are paralyzed in fear so they do nothing without gathering enough facts. To me, social media is just another way to communicate and build relationships. Just like conducting yourself in public, you have to be smart and careful. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Jason, thanks for your thoughts. The bottom line for me is that social media is just another form of communication. I do agree with your statement: “How employees conduct themselves in the performance of the business of the organization should be consistent across the board, no matter in what media it is conducted.”

  4. Steve,
    As someone who has worked on this with ACT, as well as with individual agencies, I have to say that I am coming around to your way of thinking. When insurance folks start to think about social media, they tend to freak out and look at it as a totally separate way of doing some aspect of their daily business when, in fact, it is simply an additional manner into which they can extend what it is they are currently doing (networking, communicating with clients, etc.) How employees conduct themselves in the performance of the business of the organization should be consistent across the board, no matter in what media it is conducted.

    That is not to say that there shouldn’t be guidelines – as a part of an electronic communications policy as you mention or a stand-alone social media guidelines document – that inform, train, and set expectations in the use of online media. These guidelines of course should be consistent with how the agency handles topics that could fall into an E&O or privacy realm.

    Regards, Jason