Crafting a Social Media Policy That Works

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We’ve all heard stories about people getting fired after their employer discovered something on social media. Sometimes, it’s because of something the employee said about the company or a customer; other times, it was because of something unrelated to their work, but a result of their online activity in their personal life.

Do you want to avoid these situations and bad publicity for your business? The answer is to develop a social media policy that’s shared with employees during the onboarding process. It helps to mitigate the risks for you as an employer and for them as the employee, and goes beyond the scope of a traditional confidentiality agreement, to ensure everyone knows the appropriate code of conduct. You may wish to get specific in what your policy covers, going beyond what your employees can and cannot do with company computers.

It may seem redundant or unnecessary to completely spell out a policy for each social media network, especially if your company is present on several. And while it may be time consuming to do, it’s important to consider each network individually. Depending on the nature of your business, different networks may have different implications for you.

 

When to Create Your Social Media Policy

Create a social media policy for your brand as soon as you have one or more people working for your company. If you have someone else managing your social media, whether they’re in-house or not, make sure there’s a policy in place to address some of the most common issues that could arise.

The rest of this blog post breaks down the various components of the ideal social media policy. It’s up to you whether you want to consider these separate documents, or include it all as part of a larger social media handbook. You may need to add more components if there are additional networks you’re using as part of your brand. I mention YouTube here, because there are many brands out there making use it of it, but naturally, if you don’t have a presence there, it doesn’t need to be part of your company policy until you choose to use it, if you choose to use it at all.

 

Employee Code of Conduct for Online Communications

This should outline what is okay and not okay for anyone to stay and do online, both personally and professional. It needs to cover the legal issues, along with respectful conduct for how the employee should behave anywhere when they’re online – not just when they’re representing the company.

As part of the legal issues, it should cover any applicable law, such as copyright, fair use, and financial disclosure, at least where the company is concerned. Take steps to ensure employees understand the privacy and disclosure issues so they can properly protect any confidential information, whether it be their own, the company’s, or information that belongs to a customer.

 

Employee Code of Conduct for Company Representation in Online Communications

This should discuss what’s okay for someone to do online, either on or off social media platforms, specifically when they are acting on behalf of, or otherwise representing the company. This is especially important for words and phrases that aren’t allowed to be used, and properly addressing negativity.

Tell your employees what’s acceptable when dealing with the negativity.

  • Listen to what the person is saying and correct mistakes. For instance, apologize and invite them to take the conversation to email where you can deal with matters privately.
  • Diffuse the situation using humor.
  • Ignore when appropriate – troll, rather than a customer.
  • Block or ban when appropriate – outline when this is acceptable.
  • Respond with facts.

 

Employee Facebook Usage Policy

Your company cannot tell its employees they can’t have a personal Facebook page. But it can dictate whether or not they are allowed to speak of the company on their personal page, how they are allowed to speak of it, and whether they are allowed to use their personal Facebook accounts while at work. It should clearly define the consequences of disregarding any of the policy, explaining when it is possible for an employee to be terminated as a result of their social media activity.

 

Facebook Brand Page Usage Policy

This should outline when it’s okay to use the brand page, how it’s okay to use it, and who is authorized to use it. Not everyone who works for your company will need admin access to the page, regardless of permission level.

 

Facebook Public Comment and Messaging Policy

Common sense is a major factor here – but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea to let employees know of the expected conduct and potential consequences. When it is okay to ignore a comment? What’s the ideal response time?

 

Personal Blogging Policy

Is it okay for an employee to have a personal blog? Can they talk about their work with your company there? Can they mention your company by name? Must they use a pen name if they choose to blog personally? Adidas’ social media policy, for instance, says employees are allowed to associate themselves with the company, but must clearly brand their posts as personal and completely their own. This allows them to breed employee advocacy, while also absolving them of any liability as a result of repercussions of employee conduct. They’re also not allowed to discuss any confidential information pertaining to company records or client information.

Best Buy’s social media policy follows this same guidelines, but adds that content such as “racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and physical disability slurs are not tolerated.

Your policy should outline who to contact or what to do if an employee’s blog posts generates media coverage. Employees should know who to reach out to, and how to best reach out, if any member of the media contacts them about the blog posts relating to the company.

If an employee wants to blog about something, but isn’t sure whether the specific information has been publicly disclosed, they should also reach out to PR to get any necessary clarification, as outlined in Yahoo’s blog guidelines.

 

Blogging Disclosure Policy

If an employee has a personal blog, what must they disclose about their relationship with your company and any parent/sister companies?What must they disclose in their content? It’s a good idea to cover FTC regulations regarding affiliate links, sponsored posts, and product reviews, here too, so all employees know what they have to do. It’s also a good idea to discuss the consequences of noncompliance.

If you struggle with getting a disclosure policy in place, there are many templates and generators that you can direct your employees to, and even use on your corporate blog.

 

Corporate Blogging Policy

This should include information about the use of the corporate blog, as well as the commenting policy, and the approval process for blog posts. What channels must the post go through before it is live? Who is the person in charge of hitting the publish button? What happens if an error is caught after the fact? Is it removed completely, or is an update published at the bottom to reflect the difference between the live and original versions of the post?

What photo repositories are acceptable for use with blog posts? What is the correct way to attribute photos to remain in compliance with copyright law? Some of this information can be included in your brand and writing style guide, as well.

It’s always a good idea to respond to blog comments you get, but you should outline expectations for response time. Anything about what’s acceptable vs. what’s not should already be covered in the basic conduct policies.

 

Personal Social Networking Policy

How should employees behave on their personal social networking platforms, even those that the company is not currently participating in? Are they allowed to mention they work for the company? Make sure they understand that if they do mention they work for a company, how they behave online could be construed as a reflection of the company. Outline what is okay and what could potentially lead to termination.

 

LinkedIn Policy

Create a policy specific to the use of LinkedIn for employees and for your corporate brand page, similar to the way you’ve done for Facebook. This is especially important if you have people working in the B2B space, using the platform for lead generation and relationship nurturing.

 

Personal Twitter Policy

Like the blogging and Facebook policy, outline a policy regarding the personal use of Twitter accounts as they relate to your company.

 

Corporate Twitter Policy

What’s okay to say and do on the corporate Twitter account? Should anyone who follows the corporate account automatically be followed back? Is anyone who has access to the corporate account allowed to find new followers, or is that limited to a select person or small group of people?

 

Corporate YouTube Policy

What is the approval process for new videos? Who is in charge of recording and editing? What is the process after a new video goes live? Think about this the same way you do the corporate blog. If customers or employees are to be featured in the videos, make sure to have the necessary legal releases for use of the material.

 

Corporate YouTube Public Comment Policy

Like Facebook public comments – what’s okay and what’s not when it comes to YouTube? When should brand representatives address comments? When it is okay to ignore, block/ban? How quickly should they aim to respond to comments?

 

Company Password Policy

Who has access to the passwords? How of often are the passwords changed? What happens if something goes awry with an employee who has access to those passwords? Think you don’t need a plan for that? Learn from British entertainment retailer, HMV. They announced massive corporate layoffs, and if you do the same, make sure you’ve changed the social media passwords – especially Twitter. Though the tweets were deleted regularly as the struggle between exiting employees and management, screen grabs show social media manager Poppy Rose live tweets about the layoffs from the corporate account. The story goes viral while other managers are racing to reset the corporate Twitter account password.

 

Create a Massive Social Media Policy Now or Add Policies as You Need Them?

You have the option to create one massive social media policy now, to address all aspects of your social media usage. Or, you can create only the elements you need, adding to and adapting the policy as you bring additional networks into your corporate social media strategy. If you’re unsure of where to begin, the Social Media Governance database can help you see many examples of how companies are handling their social media policies. It’s broken down into various categories, including: academics, agencies, B2B, B2C, government, healthcare, and non-profit. You can even choose guides and templates to help you get started, and then take a look at what others in your industry are doing to mimic it.

 

Guidelines for Building Your Own Policies

The most effective social media policies are much more than a collection of dos and don’ts. The best policies consider company culture, the employees, and the organization as a whole. It’s not about imposing as many restrictions as possible, but rather, developing a set of rules that fit the culture well and are clearly articulated to the point that your team will follow the rules without even thinking about it. Don’t discourage social media use – you want to build a policy that allows your team members to actively be on social working as brand advocates.

Once your policy has been finalized, make sure all your employees receive it. Allow them to ask questions and address any concerns they may have with the policies you’ve developed. Take note of feedback, and consider making updates for clarity, if necessary.

Keep the policy in a central location, where employees know how to access it, so they can get to it for review whenever they have a question or want a refresher. Keep it separate from the employee handbook, to avoid information overload.

Does your company have a social media policy in place? Why or why not? How has it helped you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo credit: iStock

SEO virtuoso, CEO @Sachs Marketing Group. Focused on being of service to business owners - helping to better position them in the eyes of their audiences.

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