Social media policies are on the minds of most business owners these days. After all, nearly everyone we know uses a Facebook account, and lots of people are blogging about their families or uploading videos from last weekend’s party to YouTube. So how do you protect your business when your staff are loose on the social web? The answer is not to lock down Internet access at work – after all, your employees can access Facebook right from their smart phones at their desks. Smart businesses have social media policies which govern the actions of employees in social media – whether on behalf of the company or while on their own time.
Most policies are crafted primarily with company protection in mind. I’d argue that an equally important goal of your policy should be to eliminate confusion on the part of employees, making it safe for them to engage in social media without constantly asking for guidance (or fouling up). Therefore, a good social media policy needs a number of key elements in order to make it easy for employees to follow and clear for HR and executives to interpret. Even if you already have a policy, perhaps it’s worth checking to be sure you’re covering the following points.
- State who is approved to speak on behalf of the company in social media. This could be anyone, or it could be only those people who have been specifically certified or trained to do so. You might consider social media as similar to traditional media – after all, you probably wouldn’t allow just anyone to do a TV interview on behalf of the company, so why would you allow anyone to tweet for the company? And by “approved to speak,” you probably mean in any instance – even the most basic of customer service issues may need to go through your approved social media team.
- Make it clear who is authorized to create social media accounts for the company. Although you have likely already established your Facebook page and other social presences, someone in your organization might have a notion down the road that their branch or product line needs a Twitter account of its own. In order to keep things coordinated, perhaps state that all new social presences require approval and specify where that approval must come from.
- Set some boundaries for personal content. You probably don’t care whether your staff tweets about their kids or their knitting, so help them to see where the line is between work content and personal content. Some policies suggest that as long as employees are not talking about company-related topics, everything else is fair game.
- However, realize that staff do want to talk about their work – after all, they spend a lot of time thinking about work topics and it occupies a large part of their day. But you don’t want your employees to be seen as “astroturfing” – pumping up the reputation of your brand without full transparency into their relationship with the company. So give them some guidelines on how to incorporate industry or company information into their own conversations without running afoul of the policy. This could mean that they have to state their company affiliation in their social profile (but that their opinions are their own), or that they should indicate (employer) in their tweets or personal blog posts.
- Do you want your staff to amplify your social messaging – retweeting your content or posting your blog posts to Facebook when it’s appropriate for their audiences? if so, clarify this point and help your team to do so. But be wary of requiring this of staff; it’s really not appropriate to ask people to use their personal profiles for business, and it could reflect badly on your company if it looks like you’re making your staff spam their family and friends with your corporate messaging.
- Some content may be totally off-limits for any employee posting anywhere. This probably includes confidential information, posting anything negative about a competitor, or posting anything that could infringe on intellectual property laws, at minimum. While this may all seem obvious, put it in the policy anyway.
- Give employees an outlet for passing along information they see in social media that they feel should be responded to. At the very least, providing an email address to the PR or customer service department within the policy will be a valve release for employees which may prevent them from trying to respond on their own.
- Remind everyone about the importance of professionalism and respect for others. This seems to go without saying, but why not put it in writing, just in case? Those videos of the company holiday party with the boss in the lampshade probably won’t be good for your corporate image.
Have other thoughts about what a social media policy should include? Please share your ideas in the comments.
This post originally appeared at Social Media Explorer, where I’m a regular contributor on the topics of public relations and social media.
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