Board Directors now discussing more pro – than con – of social media

This morning’s Vintage-moderated social media discussion at the NYSE Governance Boardroom Summit brought together a room full of general counsel and directors from a wide variety of publicly-listed companies. The discussion was “Social Media: Communications, Compliance or Just Plain Circumspect.”

The conversation began with some basic social media vocabulary (what is a cashtag) but quickly evolved to discussions of policies and risk.

Vintage and PR Newswire partner with the NYSE at all governance summits and with products for their issuers.

Vintage and PR Newswire partner with the NYSE at all governance summits and with investor relations products for their issuers.

The most interesting, if anecdotal, observation is that most directors now understand the potential of social media – not just the risk. Additionally, similar to fall session, the risk is National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) based, not RegFD. Also, in light of the constant influx of social media products (Snapchat, Yik Yak, etc.), there has been a sense of leveling / stabilization of the main channels used by companies.

Bits and bytes:

  • Forget about “control.” Conferring to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), employers’ attempts to control or limit what employees post on social media websites and their personal accounts often violate the employees’ rights to engage in protected activity. Focus on “communications” instead.

Apart from legal guidance, employees need to have transparency intothe company’s goal on why and how social media is being used to promote the business’ goals. Employees need to understand why the policy exists so they treat it with respect and understand the company’s strategy. Also, get them involved…explain how EVERYONE can work to extend the company’s message.

To that, a social media policy needs to outline the company’s social media strategy. At times this means encouraging employees to “retweet” and share the brand’s outreach – other times it emphasizes the negative consequences to the employee of rogue social media posts.

  • Limit official social media policy to communications about company products or services and anti-harassment guidelines. Clarify any discipline.
  • Explain RegD and how the disclosure of confidential, nonpublic information could affect the company’s stock price and investor behavior.
  • Indicate restrictions on the unauthorized use of corporate logos, trademarks and copyrighted material in social media posts.
  • Provide examples of best practices for social media communications. Provide examples of improper social media communications.

The five take-aways where:

  1. Ask to see your companies’ social media policy – like the NLRB example below.
  2. Learn more about social media monitoring. Most all in the room did not realize that there were “single portal tools” like our Agility product (sales pitch) that can parse the web (clear out the noise) for relevant social media content about their companies.
  3. The simple equity monitoring exercise of a cashtag search. NO ONE knew of this.
  4. Meet with General Counsel. Learn what their view on social media is – what tone have they set and if they are unnecessarily hindering communication.
  5. Discover if investor relations have established a presence – especially for crisis communications. Social media accelerates everything.

Lastly, none of the board members in the audience felt it was their role to “tweet.”

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SAMPLE SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY

At [COMPANY], we understand that social media can be a fun and rewarding way to share your life and opinions with family, friends and co-workers around the world. However, use of social media also presents certain risks and carries with it certain responsibilities. To assist you in making responsible decisions about your use of social media, we have established these guidelines for appropriate use of social media.

This policy applies to all associates who work for [COMPANY], or one of its subsidiary companies in the United States [COMPANY].  Managers and supervisors should use the supplemental Social Media Management Guidelines for additional guidance in administering the policy.

Guidelines

In the rapidly expanding world of electronic communication, social media can mean many things.  Social media includes all means of communicating or posting information or content of any sort on the Internet, including to your own or someone else’s web log or blog, journal or diary, personal web site, social networking or affinity web site, web bulletin board or a chat room, whether or not associated or affiliated with [COMPANY], as well as any other form of electronic communication.  The same principles and guidelines found in [COMPANY] policies and three basic beliefs apply to your activities online. Ultimately, you are solely responsible for what you post online. Before creating online content, consider some of the risks and rewards that are involved. Keep in mind that any of your conduct that adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow associates or otherwise adversely affects members, customers, suppliers, people who work on behalf of [COMPANY] or [COMPANY’s] legitimate business interests may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Know and follow the rules

Carefully read these guidelines, the [COMPANY] Statement of Ethics Policy, the [COMPANY] Information Policy and the Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Policy, and ensure your postings are consistent with these policies. Inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated and may subject you to disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Be respectful

Always be fair and courteous to fellow associates, customers, members, suppliers or people who work on behalf of [COMPANY]. Also, keep in mind that you are more likely to resolved work-related complaints by speaking directly with your co-workers or by utilizing our Open Door Policy than by posting complaints to a social media outlet. Nevertheless, if you decide to post complaints or criticism, avoid using statements, photographs, video or audio that reasonably could be viewed as malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating, that disparage customers, members, associates or suppliers, or that might constitute harassment or bullying. Examples of such conduct might include offensive posts meant to intentionally harm someone’s reputation or posts that could contribute to a hostile work environment on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion or any other status protected by law or company policy.

Be honest and accurate

Make sure you are always honest and accurate when posting information or news, and if you make a mistake, correct it quickly. Be open about any previous posts you have altered.  Remember that the Internet archives almost everything; therefore, even deleted postings can be searched. Never post any information or rumors that you know to be false about [COMPANY], fellow associates, members, customers, suppliers, people working on behalf of [COMPANY] or competitors.

Post only appropriate and respectful content

Maintain the confidentiality of [COMPANY] trade secrets and private or confidential information. Trades secrets may include information regarding the development of systems, processes, products, know-how and technology. Do not post internal reports, policies, procedures or other internal business-related confidential communications.

Respect financial disclosure laws. It is illegal to communicate or give a “tip” on inside information to others so that they may buy or sell stocks or securities. Such online conduct may also violate the Insider Trading Policy.

Do not create a link from your blog, website or other social networking site to a [COMPANY] website without identifying yourself as a [COMPANY] associate.

Express only your personal opinions. Never represent yourself as a spokesperson for [COMPANY]. If [COMPANY] is a subject of the content you are creating, be clear and open about the fact that you are an associate and make it clear that your views do not represent those of [Employer], fellow associates, members, customers, suppliers or people working on behalf of [COMPANY]. If you do publish a blog or post online related to the work you do or subjects associated with [COMPANY], make it clear that you are not speaking on behalf of [COMPANY]. It is best to include a disclaimer such as “The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of [COMPANY].”

Using social media at work

Refrain from using social media while on work time or on equipment we provide, unless it is work-related as authorized by your manager or consistent with the Company Equipment Policy.  Do not use [COMPANY] email addresses to register on social networks, blogs or other online tools utilized for personal use.

Retaliation is prohibited

[COMPANY] prohibits taking negative action against any associate for reporting a possible deviation from this policy or for cooperating in an investigation. Any associate who retaliates against another associate for reporting a possible deviation from this policy or for cooperating in an investigation will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

Media contacts

Associates should not speak to the media on [COMPANY’S] behalf without contacting the Corporate Affairs Department. All media inquiries should be directed to them.

For more information

If you have questions or need further guidance, please contact your HR representative.

One response to “Board Directors now discussing more pro – than con – of social media

  1. Terrific. The courts have shown a lot of common sense in regard to lawsuits against companies regarding social media. There really has not been a huge litigation trend at all. Much a do about nothing.

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