Does your social media policy fall short?

If like me, you keep an eye on the trending topics of your business, interesting stories show up. In the world of social media, there were 2 trending topics over the last week. One was the fact that the American Medical Association just created a social media policy for physicians and the other about a medical technician being laid off on the basis of her comments about her supervisor on Facebook (NY Times article).

First to the policy, it is simple, straight forward and still comprehensive. It can be summarized in 5 short statements:

  • Separate private and professional presence online
  • Respect Doctor-Patient privacy and confidentiality
  • Maintain Doctor-Patient relationship online
  • Use security settings to the maximize protection for your social media profiles
  • Know that your online presence will influence your offline reputation especially true with negative content


This is a great start but it is by no means a complete policy. I would consider it more some guidelines on usage rather than calling a policy. Some hospitals are taking this one step further and making more extensive policies that include aspects such as authenticity, honesty, disclaimers, etc. Good examples are the policies of the Mayo Clinic, Ohio StateUniversity Medical Center, etc.

However, as companies are hurrying towards making and implementing such a policy, the latter trending topic is generating a ground breaking legal case, which is stopping companies in their tracks. What is going on? A medical technician was fired over violating the rule for depicting the company in a negative way on social media (specifically Facebook). National Labor Relations Board has jumped in and said this firing was illegal since employees have the right to talk about the working conditions whether that is at the water cooler, in a bar or even facebook. It is unrealistic to think that barring employees to talk about their company anywhere is an option and even a very restrictive social media policy will not help.

There are five conclusions I would like to draw up:

  • The best way to address such a situation is to have an open door policy where unhappy people can go and vent their frustrations to a real human being with no repercussions so they do not have to do this on social media.
  • Include a paragraph addressing respect for and defamatory statements about company, co-workers, clients, suppliers, etc.
  • Additionally, social media policies should include actions and consequences when the policy is not adhered to.
  • Often forgotten, is the fact that you need to make sure employees have read and understood the social media policy to the same extend as the employment policies.
  • Finally, employees have to keep in mind that they are also tarnishing their own reputation making these types of remarks and burdening their future employability.
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