All Articles Marketing Guidance for social media policies -- bottom line: Get specific

Guidance for social media policies — bottom line: Get specific

4 min read


SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

On May 30, the Acting General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued the organization’s third report on social media policies. The report describes the NLRB’s review of seven recent social media cases. I’ve reviewed the 24-page (single-spaced) Operations Management Memo. The most important lesson to share: Get specific.

In our poll question this week, we asked, Do you worry that your company’s social media policy for employees is too strict? The results:

  • We don’t have a social media policy for employees: 30.99%
  • No, our policy is fine the way it is: 29.58%
  • Yes, it’s much too restrictive: 20.42%
  • No, if anything, it’s too lenient: 19.01%

My advice after reading the report is, irrespective of how you answered, re-evaluate the language used in your existing social media policy and get specific. In the report, the NLRB concluded that six of the seven cases reviewed had some portion of the policy that made it unlawful. And the key thing leading to that conclusion was more found in what was not written, then actually what was.

Let’s take a quick look at one example from the report.

Policy language:

Adopt a friendly tone when engaging online. Don’t pick fights. Social media is about conversations. When engaging with others online, adopt a warm and friendly tone that will encourage others to respond to your postings and join your conversation. Remember to communicate in a professional tone. … This includes not only the obvious (no ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc.) but also proper consideration of privacy and topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion. Don’t make any comments about [Employer’s] customers, suppliers or competitors that might be considered defamatory.

NLRB reports review:

We found this rule unlawful for several reasons. First, in warning employees not to “pick fights” and to avoid topics that might be considered objectionable or inflammatory–such as politics and religion, and reminding employees to communicate in a “professional tone,” the overall thrust of this rule is to caution employees against online discussions that could become heated or controversial. Discussions about working conditions or unionism have the potential to become just as heated or controversial as discussions about politics and religion. Without further clarification of what is “objectionable or inflammatory,” (emphasis added by me) employees would reasonably construe this rule to prohibit robust but protected discussions about working conditions or unionism.

In this one short example, since the detail is not included, an employee may conclude that the policy is in fact attempting to restrict their rights as governed by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. This theme was repeated throughout the report. Here are the headings for each of the six “unlawful” policies.

  • Rules on Using Social Media Technology and on Communicating Confidential Information Are Overbroad
  • Several Policy Provisions Are Overbroad, Including Those on ‘Non-Public Information’ and ‘Friending Co-Workers’
  • Guidelines on Privacy, Legal Matters, Online Tone, Prior Permission, and Resolving Concerns Are Overbroad
  • Provisions on Protecting Information and Expressing Opinions Are Too Broad, But Bullying Provision Is Lawful
  • Duty to Report ‘Unsolicited’ Electronic Communications Is Overbroad, But ‘Unauthorized Postings’ Provision Is Lawful
  • Portions of Rules on Using Social Media and Contact with Media and Government Are Unlawful

As you can see, ambiguity in the language of the social media policy is the focus, i.e “Too Broad” or “Overbroad.” To quote the report, “rules that are ambiguous as to their application to Section 7 activity and that contain no limiting language or context to clarify that the rules do not restrict Section 7 rights are unlawful.”

Said in layman’s terms, if your social media policy does not give specific examples of what behavior is restricted, it may be “unlawful” as interpreted by the current leadership of the NLRB. These findings make it abundantly clear that social media and the effects it is having in the business world should not be taken lightly in any way, shape or form. If you have a social media policy, your next best step may be to have it reviewed by an employment attorney. I know that is what I’ll be recommending to my clients.

This poll analysis was written by SmartBlogs contributor Jeremy Victor. He is the president of business-to-business content-marketing agency Make Good Media and editor-in-chief of For more of his writing, visit and follow him on Twitter and Google+.