There may have been a time when an organization could control much of what its employees were saying to the outside world but that time has long since passed. Yet many organizations continue to cling to outdated command-and-control communication policies that attempt to funnel all external messaging through the public relations department. Such policies are untenable in the age of smartphones and in a time when audiences expect authenticity and speedy responses. But more importantly, such policies cripple one of the greatest communication channels an organization can have – its own employees.
Employees can speak from a distinct vantage point and with unique credibility. Through their interactions with customers, co-workers, industry peers, friends, family and others in the community, employees can turn around the worst PR efforts or torpedo the best. They have the power to make or break your brand.
So how do you unleash this great power and, at the same time, ensure that employees aren’t running amok? Start by having a communication policy that embraces digital realities and then make sure your employees are receiving timely, accurate and inspirational messaging about their organization on an ongoing basis. Establishing this relationship when things are going smoothly will help ensure your employees are there for you when you need them the most, in times of crisis and controversy.
The policy you establish should aim to keep employees out of legal hot water and help them to avoid social mishaps, and all the while encourage them to share their expertise about their profession and your organization.
With the right policy in place, and the right information at the right time, you can unleash a powerful authentic voice for your organization.
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Following is a proposed communication policy I devised that addresses legal concerns, provides employees with guidance, and allows employees to speak about areas where they have expertise. Please let me know what you think of this philosophy and the specifics of this sample policy. What areas are missing? What changes would you make?
Sample Communication Policy
XYZ Corporation has the best employees in the business and our employees are encouraged to speak about areas where they have specific expertise. We encourage our employees to share information that can help others understand our company better and further our business. However, employees should be mindful of communicating information about the company in mediums aimed at broad external audiences, such as letters to the editor, radio talk shows, blog comments and social media channels. To ensure employees are able to engage in appropriate public commentary and engage in social media channels, employees should familiarize themselves with and adhere to the following guidelines:
- XYZ Corporation employees are personally responsible for the content they publish on user-generated social media.
- Employees should be mindful that what they publish is public for a long time and take steps to ensure their privacy.
- Employees should make it clear they are speaking for themselves and not on behalf of XYZ Corporation.
- If employees publish content to any website outside of XYZ Corporation and it has something to do with work they do or subjects associated with XYZ Corporation, employees should use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent XYZ Corporation’ positions, strategies or opinions.
- Employees should respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.
- Employees should not provide XYZ Corporation or another person’s confidential or other proprietary information. Employees should ask permission to publish or report on conversations meant to be private or internal. Employees must make sure they do not disclose or use confidential or proprietary information or that of any other person or company. For example, an employee should ask permission before posting someone’s picture in a social network or publishing in a blog a conversation that was meant to be private.
- Employees must not comment on confidential financial information, such as XYZ Corporation’s future business performance, business plans, or prospects anywhere in the world. This includes statements about an upcoming quarter or future periods or information about alliances, and applies to anyone, including conversations with Wall Street analysts, news media or other third parties (including friends). XYZ Corporation policy is not to comment on rumors in any way. Employees should not comment on rumors. They should not deny or affirm a rumor in any way.
- Employees should not cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without their approval. If an employee does make a reference, the employee should cite the source.
- Employees should take care to respect their audience. They should not use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in XYZ Corporation’s workplace. They also should show proper consideration for others’ privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion.
- Employees should be aware of their association with XYZ Corporation in online social networks. If employees identify themselves as XYZ Corporation employees, they should ensure their profiles and related content is consistent with how they wish to present themselves with colleagues and clients.
- Only those officially designated by XYZ Corporation have the authorization to speak on behalf of the entire company. Employees should direct news media inquiries to Corporate Communications. If an employee feels comfortable, they may speak to the news media and others about their job and their specific area of expertise. However, employees should decline to talk about topics outside of their area and instead direct them to Corporate Communications.
- Employees should always use good judgment. If an employee is about to publish something that makes them even the slightest bit uncomfortable, they are advised to review the suggestions above and think about why they feel that way. Ultimately, however, employees have sole responsibility for what they post or publish in any form of online social media.
- All employees should make sure their online activities do not interfere with their job or commitments to our customers.
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