As of October 2015, says Pew Research Center, 76% of adults in the United States who have access to the Internet use Facebook – and, with the abundance of smartphones, people are connected to the Internet with just a finger tap. This trend is unlikely to decrease – mobile phone usage OR social media participation – so it just makes good sense for veterinary practices to establish social media policies for their employees.

Important note: It also makes sense to consult with an attorney when creating your policy. This is an ever-changing social phenomenon and issues are not always clear-cut.

Social Media Policies

First, how do you define social media? You’re almost certainly considering platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and the like to be social media. But, what about an employee’s personal blog? Comments he or she makes on someone else’s blog?

It’s important that your policy clearly outlines what’s permissible and what isn’t, but you should first share the following context:

Policies should state that the practice respects the rights of its employees to use social media as a method of self-expression and public conversation. State that the practice does not discriminate against employees who use social media to communicate personal interests and affiliations, or any other lawful purposes.

A 2012 memorandum by the Office of the General Counsel (OM 12-59) uses phrases like this in their sample policy:

  • “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 [Employer] or [Employer’s] legitimate business interests may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

Other sections in OM 12-59 encourage being honest, accurate and respectful. There is a focus on specifically prohibiting posts that include discriminating or harassing statements and, as far as prohibiting specific forms of content, types include:

  • Employer trade secrets/private and/or confidential information
  • Internal reports, processes and policies
  • Content where someone falsely claims to represent his or her employer

You will likely want to prohibit non-work-related social media posting while an employee is on the clock.

An Entrepreneur.com article by Arkady Bukh, a New York federal defense attorney, sums up social media policies this way: “Ultimately they [social media policies] should be about educating workers to use common sense when they use social media.”

Pros and Cons

As you craft your policy, keep in mind both the benefits and challenges associated with social media. On the plus side, social media can be used as a powerful marketing and branding tool. So, if your employees are perceived as likeable, friendly and trustworthy people on social media, then this can only benefit your practice when people are looking for a new veterinarian.

Spread the Word

It’s not enough to simply create a social media policy. You need to share this policy with all employees regularly, perhaps at an annual meeting where you review all company policies. Allow time for your staff to ask questions and gain clarity.