As an avid football fan, the fallout created by a Twitter post from Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker was incredible to watch.

Following his tweet, which detailed his thoughts on the Government’s asylum policies, he was asked to ‘step back’ from presenting Match of the Day because the BBC believed his tweet broke their impartiality guidelines, and was thus in breach of his contract. However, what I doubt the BBC could have imagined was the cascade of chaos this caused.

Lineker’s tweet became the focus of intense national debate. His enforced break from presenting was also met with derision from co-presenters and commentators across the BBC; with many of them showing support for the presenter by refusing to take part in scheduled programming. This of course, threw the BBC’s sporting schedules into total disarray, and also led to many journalists and observers saying that the BBC’s own credibility was seriously undermined.

The entire drama has now seemingly been resolved – great news for us football fans. But, did it ever had to happen in the first place, and are there any lessons HR can learn from this debacle?

A difference in understanding?

It’s hardly surprising that large organisations are a tad nervous about social media, and more likely to try and discourage their staff’s use of networking sites, rather than encouraging them to actively embrace the on-line world. The Lineker vs. BBC situation highlights exactly why employers can be incredibly anxious with their employers being vocal on social – especially if it’s obvious who they work for!

Now, of course we don’t know the intricacies of Lineker’s employment contract with the BBC; but what we can say – with some confidence – is that this situation likely came about due to a difference of understanding when it comes to the BBC’s social media policies.

The BBC felt Lineker’s comments could be interpreted as inflammatory, and went against their core remit on remaining impartial – especially when it comes to the actions of the British Government. Lineker, on the other hand, didn’t see a problem and believed he had a right to free speech, with many of his colleagues believing the same.

Although it’s impossible to say for certain, it’s highly likely the disagreement stemmed from whether or not the BBC made their policies on social media use clear, obvious, and consistent across the corporation. It would certainly account for the difference of opinion between the two sides…

Luckily, this situation is something every HR professional can certainly learn from…

Clarity is key for effective social media policies

Social media may not be popular with everyone, but there’s no denying that – in whatever shape or form – it is here to stay. This means employers and their HR teams are better off engaging with it pro-actively, rather than trying to get their staff to take a pledge of silence. This is where having a clear, accessible and consistent social media policy comes into play.

Here are some tips for you to consider…

HR policies can only ever be truly effective if they are inclusive of the entire business – including your freelancers. The last thing you want to create is a social media policy that says one thing is fine for one group of employees, but not for another – this will likely create division and confusion.

To avoid this from happening, ensure your company’s social media policy includes everyone’s perspective and addresses a wide range of concerns, including those of your organisation’s senior leadership, HR, legal, marketing, and IT departments. If you involve your employees in putting your HR policies together in the first place, they’re much more likely to adhere to its core principles.

If your policy is there to protect both your employees and your business, don’t just keep it stored deep on a shared drive, or only sent as a document for new starters. Ensure it’s accessible by anyone in the business, at any time. In addition, ensured signed copies by your employees are also safely stored there, too.

This is where a shared online workspace can be a real asset. Shared workspaces or HR portals – such as Cezanne HR’s integrated portals and workspaces – make it easy for employees to access and view important company documents anytime, anyplace. In addition, any changes made to your policies can be quickly communicated, whilst it can also act as the ‘one true voice’ for your key policies – ensuring there’s no confusion as to accuracy.

See the chance to enhance engagement within your business by aligning your social media policy to the visions and values of your business. For example, if a core value of your business is to be respectful to others, then this can be reflected within your social media policy – encouraging your people to think carefully about what information they put out in the public domain.

It’s important to note that HR should be at the forefront of developing and monitoring company cultures. A clearly set out vision and values will help in this respect and, when supported correctly, will permeate throughout a business. So, if your vision and values are strong and closely aligned with your policies, it’s much more likely your employees will adhere to the guidelines you put in place.

For formal guidance on how to create HR policies, head over to the CIPD website which contains a number of helpful factsheets and guides for HR professionals.

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