3 Things You Must Do Before Writing a Social Media Policy

May 9, 2015

6:00 pm

When it comes to content marketing, social media is king. Thanks to networks like Twitter and Facebook, your business is never more than a click away from hundreds of thousands of potential customers. You’re also only a click away from catastrophe.

Now, nobody can deny that social media is a fantastic tool with which to build up your brand reputation and promote company services. In this day and age, you can’t really survive without it. But you’ve got to be careful, because the web is completely littered with social media horror stories. Top firms like SiriusXM and Francesca’s Holdings were recently forced to axe top talent due to offensive social media engagement – and fashion CEO Kenneth Cole has had to issue multiple apologies for using Twitter to issue inappropriate plugs for his company.

Don’t be a Kenneth Cole. 

To ensure that social media is helping your company rather than hindering it, you’ve got to draft and enforce a corporate social media policy. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy tome, and it shouldn’t infringe upon your employees’ rights. But if you want to avoid public embarrassment, you owe it to your company to do something. Here’s what to do before you start drafting a social media policy:

1. Talk to Your Employees

First thing’s first: you’ve got to talk to your employees about this. Find out what they use social media for during working hours, how they use it at home and what they think your company’s branded accounts should be doing to engage social media audiences. If you’ve appointed multiple staff members to post on these accounts, you’ve got to get a feel for what they’re comfortable with doing online in order to establish more internal accountability. For example, a policy of signing posts with one’s initials will ensure that those responsible for offensive Tweets can be reprehended. Are staff members comfortable with this?

If you’re worried about your employees dishing dirt on your company from home, sit down and have an honest conversation with them about how careless posts might inhibit business. In some cases, your staff members simply may not realize just how widely accessible their posts may be. In other cases, you may want to talk to your team about a policy of not discussing work at all on their private accounts.

Just remember: this entire conversation has got to be employee-led, and the resulting policy ideas must be as consensual as possible.

2. Know the Law

After developing a few ideas relating to how your employees interact with social media networks, you need to figure out the legal barriers that may prevent you from enacting any of those ideas. For example, some company-related posts that are sent in a private capacity may be protected under freedom of speech laws – no matter how poorly they reflect on your company. Don’t try to cross the law, because the law will always win. In 2013, corporate giants Tesco and GM both had to alter their harsh social media policies for staff after they were deemed too intrusive.

In order to prevent that embarrassment and keep employees happy, it falls on you to keep your ear to the ground and know the law. Because social media is still a relatively new mode of communication, laws surrounding its use are constantly evolving. When in doubt, consult a legal professional on how these laws may impact your staff policies.

3. Avoid Blanket Policies

A lot of companies try to do their best in order to treat all employees equally. However, social media is always going to be an exception to the rule. After all, different company departments are going to be privy to different pieces of company information. Likewise, various staff members are going to be expected to interact with customers in certain ways – and you’ll probably want senior employees to show a bit more decorum. As a result, you’re going to have to have different social media expectations for different team members.

It may be a little time-consuming, but it’s always worth providing each employee with their own bespoke social media policy. After all, if you’re 100 percent transparent from the get-go, your employees cannot plead ignorance later if they stray from those expectations.

Once you’ve taken all of this into consideration, it’s time to sit down and start writing. Now, no matter how liberal your social media policies turn out to be, this exercise will not make you a more popular boss. In fact, enforcing social media rules will make a lot of your employees groan. But in this day and age, you simply can’t afford to do business without a set of digital guidelines.

Cormac Reynolds is a lover of rugby, marketing, social media, craft beer brewer and music. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrightonCormac or read his work on My Online Marketer.

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As someone with a love of rugby, marketing, social media, craft beer brewer and music - I'm delighted to contribute to Tech.co. Follow me @brightoncormac or check out one of our great infographics

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