What should employers think about when writing a social media policy? How do you protect your brand? And how far are employees’ opinions your business? These were the questions posed by Richard Cook at the start of Monzo’s Open Office September on Tuesday.

It was great to be on the panel, along with journalists Holly Brockwell and Carl Anka and legal advisor Frances Coyle. Richard (a community manager at Monzo) chaired, and around 50 people attended. You can watch the full video above.

Damage limitation

It was a great debate, with loads of input from the audience, and some passionate contributions on all sides. The main theme that emerged was that it’s not so much brands as employees who need protection.

We talked about Justine Sacco, Toby Young, James Gunn and others who’d lost their jobs due to social media activity. Whether or not you agree with the employers’ decision in each case, it’s clear that public opinion is paramount. And the perceived risk of collateral damage.

An audience member told us about a colleague who’d tweeted support for Occupy Wall Street and was suspended and eventually fired from the financial institution they worked for.

Although the higher up you are, the more teflon-coated you appear to be. Justine Sacco was recently reinstated by her employer as a head of corporate comms. Famous men who’ve admitted harassment are returning to work, despite being called out by MeToo. And no-one seems to be censoring Donald Trump!

Safe workplaces

Holly talked eloquently about the dangers of being a woman with an opinion in tech and how as her following on Twitter has grown, she’s had to deal with more “angry small children” throwing insults.

Karl spoke about racism, sexism and offensive behaviour in general. He said he regularly advised social media influencers to go back and delete things they might have said online (“especially about celebrities in sex tapes”).

Everyone seemed to agree that employers should be doing more to protect staff from hate speech and harassment – and enable employees to feel safe at work.

Social capital

Likewise, it was also important for employers to support staff with proper social media awareness and training. Social media policies tend to be skewed towards protecting corporate interests with little focus on employee wellbeing or professional development. While this is understandable, it’s short-sighted – and wrong.

One key no-no that emerged was employers spamming staff with requests to share and “like” corporate content on social media, pushing people to join Twitter and generally “use our social capital for corporate gain”, as one audience member put it.

This sounds like a tone deaf approach from a media team who’s been on an “employee advocacy” training course. Again, it’s prioritising company needs over users’ own interests – when what’s required is a balanced approach.

Best practice

Following the debate, Monzo’s community team is planning to write up and publish its own social media guidelines – nice work Monzo! I’ll share the guidelines here when I see them.

In the meantime, here’s a selection of good social media guidance from six very different organisations. If you’re looking for a starting point, maybe one of these will help:

[Update: And here are Monzo’s social media guidelines – nice to know they’re as good as their word!]