How to Develop a Social Media Policy

Your employees are participating in social media

Playful businessman talking on telephone and taking selfie in office
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Your prospective, current, and former employees, customers, and vendors are all hanging out on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. You need to monitor social media to learn what all of these stakeholders are sharing and saying about your company, your employees, and your workplace.

Use social media to your company’s advantage. Shama (Hyder) Kabani, the author of the Zen of Social Media Marketing and the President of Click to Client, a full-service web marketing firm, asks, ”What are they saying about you, your company, and your practices? Better yet – how are you responding?

Having a social media policy in place does not mean that you get to dictate your image. But, you do get to interact responsibly in the conversation that forms your image. And, you get to help your employees do the same.”

Why a social media policy and company best practices are needed

Kabani says, “The world is changing fast, and how we communicate is changing even faster. It isn’t just Gen Y that blogs and twitters – it is a growing phenomenon embraced by all generations. There are great benefits to today’s technology and its widespread use, but there are also some risks as pointed out by Raj Malik of Network Solutions.”

He writes that “unauthorized or inappropriate commentary or posts online can:

  • ”Get the Company, and you, in legal trouble with the U.S. and other government agencies, other companies, customers or the general public.
  • ”Diminish the Company’s brand name by creating negative publicity for The Company, owners, and partners, as well as yourself or your team.
  • ”Cause damage to The Company by releasing non-public information or proprietary information.
  • ”Cost us the ability to get patents or undermine our competitive advantage.
  • ”Cost you your job at the Company.”

He suggests that most of these won’t trouble companies if employees use common sense and good judgment in their online interaction. 

10 Steps to a Social Media Policy

Kabani, who has been named one of the top 10 most influential and powerful women in social media, suggests these ten steps to creating your company social media guidelines and strategy.

Establish Where Your Company Stands on Social Media

Decide where your company stands with respect to their desired relationship with social media. You also need to decide where you stand relative to monitoring employee use of social media. You need to determine how far your company wants to go in utilizing social media for brand recognition, engaging your customers and employees in conversation, and for driving sales.
Kabani asks, “Will you choose only to communicate in reaction to what someone else says? Will you be proactive in engaging the community (consumers and bloggers)? Without an overall way of thinking about social media, it can be very hard to create a policy.”

Determine What Constitutes Social Media

Kabani says that each organization needs to define for their own use what constitutes social media. “While a blog and LinkedIn may easily be categorized as social media – what about online video? What about Twitter?

What really constitutes social media? You must have your own (preferably) written definition. This is especially true because new websites and tools emerge all the time. My personal definition of social media is any website or medium (including video) that allows for communication in the open.”

Company-Owned Electronics Provided to Employees

As with any offline or online content written, used, received, developed, or saved in company-owned electronics provided to employees, clarify who owns what. There is no question, as an example, about a personal blog, written by an employee, on his time. If he leaves your employ, the blog and the content belong to him.

But, the content of his company-owned laptop and cell phone, and the content he wrote for the company website, probably belong, by written policy, to the company.

In social media, does your company have a Twitter account or a Facebook page, as examples? The company needs to assure that the ownership of these social media accounts belongs to the company, not the employee whose current job assignment includes posting to and monitoring these accounts. Your policy must cover who owns what in the social media sphere.

Respect Privacy Rights

Keep confidential and proprietary information private. Respect the privacy rights of other employees and your customers. Social media policies must address the issue of keeping proprietary and personal information confidential.

Kabani says, “Due to the casual nature of these sites, it is easier to give away key information without realizing it. Even private messages aren’t always secure. Each site has its own fallibilities. It’s best that employees never share any confidential or proprietary information using social media – either publicly or privately.”

Who is Responsible

Decide who is responsible for managing and participating in social media. It is important that all employees understand and adhere to the company’ social media policy while networking in social media online. But, one employee or a team must assume the company’s public persona and manage company social media efforts.

Vigilant to follow and respond to public commentary, praise, or complaints about the company, the employee or team has an official responsibility to respond to social media. While all employees should be encouraged to interact and represent the company brand, in social media, these employees should proactively handle queries, too.

Kabani says, “The best way to find a social media advocate within the company is to seek out the person or team of people who are most passionate about communicating with customers in social media. They may already be doing so without you knowing it. Seek those people out and train them well to represent your brand.”

Establish Ground Rules

Establish ground rules for employee participation in social media. You walk a fine line with employees. You need to allow employees the freedom to engage in social media, yet protect the company at the same time. Kabani suggests taking a look at Intel’s social media policy which is comprehensive. The Emerging Technology Department at the Air Force has created this flow chart of their own social media guidelines and David Meerman Scott highlights their social media strategy in his blog post. So, examples do exist online.

Address of Taboo Topics

While your employees probably already exercise good common sense while participating online, your social media policy must specifically address examples of taboo topics. Confidential, proprietary, non-released company information must stay out of social media. Private and personal information about your work and your coworkers and customers must never appear online.

The public image of your employees in social media, if they can be associated with your company, does matter. Nastiness, offensiveness, disparaging comments, untruthful statements, demeaning behavior, and illegal substance use, are all examples of behavior your social media policy must address.

Monitor the Social Media Sphere

Create a system for monitoring the social media sphere. Kabani says, “A social media policy doesn’t do much good if you don’t actually monitor the space where the conversation is happening. There are plenty of free and paid tools to monitor social media.”

Train Your Employees

Make training easily available to your employees who want to participate in social media. Kabani suggests, “Think win-win. Nobody likes to be bossed around – especially when it comes to their own social networking. However, most people are open to learning about how to better leverage these social media sites to further their own careers and brands. Most people who make mistakes online just don’t know any better.

If you expect your employees to utilize the social networking tools properly, you must provide training. What they put out there isn’t just a reflection of the company; it is also a reflection of them. Make it a win-win for everybody.”

Social media is expanding with millions of people worldwide interacting in ways that few dreamed possible just a short time ago. Your employees are interacting in social media. Your company should be interacting on social media, too.

And, your social media policies and strategies need development now. Take the opportunity to influence the conversation that is occurring around your company and your brand.

Don’t believe for a minute that the conversation isn’t occurring. Jump on the chance to influence the direction – now.