They say that loose lips sink ships, and in the case of social media and your company, that saying might be a lot more literal than you want it to be! Social media can be a company’s best friend or worst nightmare, and when you want to make sure that it is working for you rather than against you, you need to consider how your social media policy needs to look.
Essentially, a social media policy tells your employees what they are and are not allowed to post regarding your company on their social media accounts. A small amount of buzz from your employees is a great thing, but the wrong irritable or indiscreet Tweet can cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars of lost revenue! This is not a risk you should be prepared to take, and having a good social media policy in place can help prevent a lot of problems.
At the most basic level, your social media policy has two goals. It should prevent loss or damage to your business, and it should encourage your employees to support your own social media efforts. Striking the right balance can be tough, but this article will help you create a social media policy that pays off.
Understanding the Need for a Social Media Policy:
Recent research by sociologists tell us that people love to network. They love to share information about what they know, and when people work for a company, they become experts regarding that company. However, they are often confused about what they should be sharing and what they should be keeping for yourself.
When you give them a social media policy, you are not binding them. Instead, you are setting them free with guidelines that will help them feel comfortable about what they are saying. They will not over share something that is sensitive, and they will not clam up about something that could be potentially useful to you. You are enlisting their aid on the social media that they and you use, and you are helping them prevent an issue where they might feel exposed or need to be disciplined.
Remember that the goal is to create a policy that is welcoming, not one that binds too tightly. It may sound a little difficult, but it is definitely something that can be done. You just need to be aware of the nine parts of a good social media policy.
Once you have figured out what you need to know about these nine parts, you can create the policy that will best serve your company.
1. What’s Your Corporate Culture Like?
Your corporate culture might be extremely traditional and practical, or it might be slyly sarcastic. It might be amazingly exuberant or creative, or it might be extremely loving and homey. Your corporate culture grows over time, developing into something that you could call your corporate personality.
As you write or rewrite your social media policy, keep your corporate culture in mind. Your policy should reflect that culture, not travel opposite or perpendicular to it. Get your HR and IT departments in on it as well. They are the departments that will most likely be dealing with the policy, and they can help you create the language that will best suit your needs.
Remember that your goal here is to create an extension of your corporate culture and to make sure that other people understand how you operate and what you stand for. By creating a policy that keeps your corporate culture in mind, you are following through with that plan.
Creating a document that matches your corporate culture is a great way to carry out the spirit of the company.
2. Get Everyone Involved:
When you are writing a social media policy, you will realize that it affects everyone in the company at every level. It’s not a joke that everyone is on Facebook now, and your company can have just as much trouble with a department head’s Tweet as you can with a call center representative’s blog entry.
To make sure that everyone is on board, hold a meeting that involves a few major stockholders and the delegates from the various departments in your company. At the very least, you will need people from the legal department, the communications and information department and human resources there. Ideally, you will have one person from each department.
At the meeting outline what you are doing and make sure that you explain how the approval process for the policy is going to go. Remind everyone that having socially active employees is always going to be a benefit for the company. Instead of having a lot of radio silence over the matter, you will instead have people who appear passionate and devoted. Remind them that this kind of engagement can never really be paid for; instead, you have to rely on the natural outpouring from your own employees.
Socially empowered employees from companies like Dell and Cisco have changed the way that people think about their companies, and it is worth telling the representatives that as you hammer out the policy.
3. The Size of It All:
When you are writing your social media policy, you need to be aware of how much you want to cover. At the very beginning, designing the scope of the plan will influence its eventual shape and finally, its effectiveness. You need to decide how all-encompassing the policy is going to be and what is being affected.
First and foremost, think about how specific you want your policy to be. You may choose, for example, to write a different policy for each of the different departments and networks. Maybe your public relations team has a very specific set of instructions for what they can say on Twitter. Alternately, you may choose to create one general policy that will apply to the entire company as a whole. While the second one is faster, it can leave you with some gaps that you need to cover up later.
Remember that this policy that you are creating is one that is for the general company, one that is going to be followed by everyone from the head of HR to the techs in the field. Your social media team, the one that runs the company blog, needs its own policy with its own permissions and rules. When you are creating policy for your social media team, you need to be willing to create a style book and internal strategy.
However, first and foremost, you need a general policy before you need anything else. This is going to help guide your efforts as you move further into the project.
4. Getting Legal Involved:
How do state and federal laws affect your ability to control your social media? This is a question that needs to be answered by your legal department, and though it is surprisingly complicated, it still does need to get done. If you don’t do it, you can get fined.
For example, be aware of the NLRB and any other federal labor laws that mention social media posts. This is a serious situation that can make things much harder for you. Also be aware that the Federal Trade Commission has rules on how you can present endorsements and reviews. You’ll also find that some laws specifically prevent you from banning negative reviews from your online customer contracts.
Remember that you are looking out for a policy that will affect everyone from the top of your company to the bottom, and if you ask for the wrong thing from your employees, you are going to be in some serious trouble. For example, in an attempt to better control their employee’s social media output, some companies ask for their employee’s personal user names and passwords.
While this might sound like a great way to keep media from leaking, it is actually illegal to ask for this information in many states. California, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois Maryland, Washington, Utah, Vermont, Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Maine, Oregon, Nevada and Wisconsin all have legislation that bans exactly that.
When you are looking for the laws that pertain to this matter, the National Conference of State Legislatures will offer some of the most detailed rulings available at this point. Further, The National Labor Relations Board helps employees act together to address conditions at their workplace, whether they have a union or not, and these discussions include talks on social media.
Your employees have rights, and it is easy to infringe on them through ignorance. Do not let this happen to you!
5. Clear It Up:
One of the main goals of your policy is to make sure that your employees know what they can talk about and to encourage them to be enthusiastic if they want to be. If you do this right, you will have people who are happy to share the good stuff that they know about your company while keeping the bad stuff to themselves. At this point, however, they might not know what to share or how they should do it.
Make sure that you address any issues that they have and that you are always willing to give them clear and solid answers. Before you publish your social media policy, always ask around to see what questions need to be answered. While some specific questions need to be researched further, you will be surprised by how frequently some questions come up. For example, will the company look for personal posts, and how should they interact with the company’s Facebook page? Answer these questions in your social media policy’s FAQ.
6. Personal Use vs Professional Use:
There is a time and a place for everything, and one thing that employees do not always understand is when they can be on their social media. For example, are they allowed to post materials when they are on break or at lunch? What about while they are on the clock but waiting for data to compile or copies to get made?
One example of a policy that addresses this kind of behavior states that salary workers are allowed to access their social media during office hours whereas hourly workers are not. Of course this is something that does not pertain to workers who deal directly with the social media of the company itself; these are the workers who need good information and access to the social media pages at all times.
Figure out whether you need your workers to talk about their relation to the company when they post information about the company. Remind them that when they do that, they are representing the company and should act accordingly. You may make suggestions regarding what they should post while they are on their own time. You cannot mandate this, as this would be extremely unethical and coercive, but you can suggest it.
This can be a tricky thing to tackle, but for many companies, it is important. Having employees that send constant tweets into the world about how bored they are at work, or who waste their time on Facebook when they are at their computers is something that is damaging to your company, so correct it!
7. Break it Down:
At this point, you should have pages and pages of information regarding what should influence your company’s social media policy. In some cases, if you have a large company and a diverse range of employees with a diverse relationship to public media, you may have enough paper to fill a binder or two.
This is a good amount of information to have on file, and you should definitely organize it and keep it on hand for your various affected departments. Legal, human resources and public relations should all have access to this document, for example.
However, when you want to make sure that your policy is actually being followed, you cannot simply hand an entire binder of policy to each employee.
Instead, what you need to do is to take all of that information, to condense it to about two pages or so and distribute it. For example, Ford, which is a very large company with workers all over the world, has a single page policy. If someone needs the longer version, they can go find it, and they do if they have doubts. On the other hand, most people are pleased to have the simpler policy to consult.
You may also choose to create a video that will address your employees’ questions regarding the social media policy. Remember that multimedia is the best way to reach people and to make it stick!
Essentially, what you are giving people is a reference sheet. On your policy page, you should touch on the main areas involved, but at the bottom, you should always let them know where they can find more information regarding the topic.
Too many rules will make your employees feel frightened or upset, but just enough will empower them to take charge!
After you have the documentation, you need to train people on the policy. This means frank discussion about what is and is not acceptable, and a thorough talk about why it is necessary. Demonstrate how important a good face is to your company, and motivate your employees to get social in the right way.
9. Lift Off!
When you are ready to put your social media policy into action, have a party. People remember things better if they are given a healthy and happy stimulus to go with them, and this is exactly what a party does.
Reward people who are creating a name for themselves on their social media and create prizes for people who come up with interesting ways to talk about where they work.
If you have some older employees who have not gotten onto social media yet, use this opportunity to teach them and to get them excited. Remember that the more fun you make this, the better off you are going to be.
When you get right down to it, a great policy is one that pulls in views and gets you the attention that you need. We are not saying that it is easy, but we are saying that it is necessary!
Social media can be a difficult beast to tame, but when you do, you will see that it has all been worth it. You need to be able to listen to a number of different factors when you are creating your social media policy, and you must be willing to be firm on some things while giving way on others.
This is not a simple thing to do, but once you have done it, you will find that your employees will reward you. They want to talk about the company on their social media networks; you just have to give them an appropriate place and way to do so.
Nurture your employees’ interest in getting your work out to the world, and remember that once you show them the way, the battle is won!
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