A short video for staff of the Department of Justice (Victoria, Australia) explaining the key elements of their social media policy.
Wait. Did you just say that your company still has no social media policy? Yet your distributors are using Facebook and Twitter, your employees are blogging and your customers are talking about you on Yelp and Google reviews?
Seriously? Uh oh…
This scenario is more common than you might suppose. Survey results published by the Society For Human Resource Management in late 2011 revealed that, while more than half of employers surveyed plan to increase social media outreach this year, a full 60% did not have a social media policy in place.
Yet engaging in social media outreach for business or organizational purposes without a formal written social media policy is just plain asking for trouble. While the legal system has not kept up with the rapid pace of our digital world, the rationale for taking the time and effort to build out a social media policy for your organization is compelling.
Digital Era risks exist regardless of an organization’s focus on technology, and/or the personal feelings of that organization’s leaders about social media and other 2.0 tools. Managing those risks is part of the cost of doing business, and managing them well can be a competitive differentiator, in both the economic marketplace and the war for talent. Generally speaking, however, there is no simple solution or “one size fits all” approach, and a “fix-it-and-forget-it” strategy is one few organizations can afford. Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD
You need to protect your company’s reputation, your customer relationships, trade secrets, trademarked information, and more. A written social media policy provides your employees with clear guidelines for what your organizations considers appropriate usage of social media. Your social media policy should work with your existing employee policies to address:
- Proprietary information or trade secrets
- What constitutes harassment
- Slander and Libel
- Treatment of trademarks or copyrights
- Industry regulations
- Protected speech
Most of your employees (or distributors or franchisees) don’t know how to use social media for business and may not intend to do anything wrong. Educating them about what your company deems appropriate helps prevent online issues caused by their lack of understanding or knowledge. Your social media policy can be used to educate your employees about:
- Social networks and social media tools
- How they are used effectively for business purposes
- What is considered appropriate use
- How your organization plans to use them to help achieve business objectives
Empowered with the right information, your employees can act as brand ambassadors, extensions of your customer service efforts, “secret shoppers”, and market researchers–as well as adding their own unique take on what your business offers customers and prospects.
Your social media policy should identify those who are responsible for monitoring your online presence and those empowered to make decisions on the company’s behalf should something go wrong. (And it could and probably will.) Many policies include a social media response triage flowchart that spells out the chain of command, what is considered online emergency and what actions to take should something go wrong online.
What Does A Social Media Policy Look Like?
Social media policies cover a wide spectrum and can look like a simple statement of eight words like: “Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t reveal”, a short upbeat video that spells out the organization’s expectations, or detailed and specific instructions for each individual platform your business is using. Your social media policy should be written to work with your existing employee policies and should reflect your corporate culture and address any legal or regulatory restrictions your industry mandates. Visit SocialMediaGovernance.com, the most complete listing of social media policies online, and take a look at the range of social media policies represented there.
Where Do You Start?
Put together a team of people that represent the different departments in your firm. Include legal and human resources and get representatives from your management team, marketing department and IT. Each department offers valuable insight based on their job responsibilities and understanding of potential risk and how social media will impact the company.
Some companies hire outside consultants to work with the team and draft the policy, some use a tool like this online social media policy generator and some customize an social media policy template.
Your final social media policy should be reviewed and blessed by your legal department.
What Should Your Social Media Policy Include?
The specifics of what your company’s policy includes will depend on your corporate culture, your industry, your team’s input and a range of other variables. Issues commonly addressed in social media policy include:
- Issues of confidentiality
- Persons authorized to speak on behalf of the organization
- Persons authorized to create social media accounts
- Proprietary information
- Respectful behavior
- Approval of posting or updating (required or not and by whom)
- Use of trademarks, company logo and imagery
- What is considered an online emergency and who is empowered to take action
- When employees may access the internet
- Websites that are considered off limits
- Sourcing information appropriately
Some organizations create two policies: one for employees during the work day and a second to address expected online behavior during personal time. This may be effective for your company or it may not be–these are decisions you will need to make as you move forward in the development of your policy.
You should also be aware that some employee communications can be protected under the National Labor Relations Act, which adds a level of complication to the policy development process. Yet another reason to have your final policy approved by your legal counsel.
Educate Your Employees
Once you have finished creating your social media policy, make sure your employees understand what it covers. Offering hands-on social media and Internet safety training can be an effective way to make sure that they represent the company well while they are communicating online. While many people are active in online social networks for personal reasons, they are not necessarily familiar with the use of social networking, or other social media, for business use.
Be Prepared To Revise Your Policy
The social media landscape and laws that govern it are evolving. Your organization will need to monitor changes to determine how they may impact your company’s social media activities. Be prepared to update your social media policy on a regular basis to reflect changes in the digital world and in your organization’s use of social media tools.
Good luck. Creating your company’s social media policy may seem like a headache and one more thing to add to your already lengthy to-do list, but it’s an important step in building a foundation for success in using social media today.
And remember, we can help. We’re here to help you create your social media policy and provide social media training for your employees. Give us a call at 419.740.1262.
Allen Mireles is president of Allen Mireles Marketing, a an integrated marketing and social media consultancy in Toledo, Ohio. You can find Allen on Google+ and Twitter.
Video and screen shot courtesy of http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/socialmedia
“Noise to Signal” cartoon courtesy of http://www.robcottingham.ca/cartoon