10 Considerations When Creating a Social Media Policy

by Mack Collier

social media policy, blogging, twitter, facebookMore and more companies are adopting the Nike philosophy of ‘Just Do It’ when it comes to social media.  And while there is value in jumping in the water, companies and organizations are increasingly seeing the need for a social media policy that will help employees understand how these tools should be used on behalf of their employer.  If your company or organization is considering creating a formal social media policy, here are 10 areas to consider:

1 – Defining what ‘Social Media’ is to your business.  You can ask 10 different people what the term ‘social media’ means, and gets 10 different definitions.  Your employees are no different, you need to define exactly what sites/tools/etc fall under the ‘social media’ umbrella for the purposes of your policy.  For example, most people consider Twitter and Facebook to be social media, but what about email?  Your blog?  Your website?  See how clarity can help?

2 – Make employees aware of any special communication considerations involving your industry.  The pharmaceutical industry, for example, has strict guidelines as to what company representatives can and cannot say to current/potential customers via social media channels.  Make sure your legal team is involved to make you aware of what the boundaries are.

3 – Define what ‘acceptable behavior’ is for your employees via social media.  What language can they use?  How does their tone and the way they respond reflect on the company’s branding and culture.  Will what they post on the personal Facebook account impact their employment?  Spell everything out so there can be no confusion later.

4 – Define what employees should and should not disclose.  For example, employees should always disclose their affiliation with the employer when posting content to social media sites, and shouldn’t disclose financial information about the company that ‘isn’t for public consumption’.

5 – Make sure employees understand the ‘chain of command’ and who owns what.  If different groups/departments should handle responses based on content, etc, then clearly spell that out so the intern in product design doesn’t respond when the manager in PR should be.

6 – Spell out copyright usage in content creation.  Make sure employees understand and respect copyright laws regarding the usage of other people’s content.

7 – Make sure that employees understand they are responsible for the content they create and the responses they make.  Remember these three words: ‘Google Never Forgets’.

8 – Create stand-alone policies for additional social media presences that the company maintains.  For example, if your company has a blog, it should also have a corporate blogging policy.  Different tools have different audiences and goals, and require a slightly different approach.  For example, the Air Force has a fabulous flow-chart for responding to online comments.

9 – Make sure all employees understand what your social media strategy is.  Help them understand what you are trying to accomplish via social media, and that will help them understand how their efforts feed into that ultimate goal.

10 – Make sure employees understand that their social media usage on behalf of the company will be monitored.  Also remind them of employee guidelines, and how their behavior using social media is governed by this.

 

So if your company or organization is ready to start creating your social media policy, these are 10 points to consider.  If you want to research the existing social media policies from other companies and organizations, here is a great list.

If your company or organization has a formal social media policy for its employees, what other areas should be considered?

{ 15 comments }

Susan Weiner, CFA April 11, 2011 at 1:45 pm

#2 is especially important for companies in financial services. SEC and FINRA, two regulators, have rules that are essential

Gini Dietrich April 11, 2011 at 5:22 pm

When I speak, I tell people to think about social media just like they do their employee code of conduct, everything from how the answer the phone and email responsiveness to behavior after hours (but on the clock) and how to dress for client meetings. I can’t think of a single point I’d add.

Mack Collier April 11, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Great point Gini, exactly what I was hitting on in #10. I also think this is a good example of how the employee guidelines/code of conduct needs to supercede the social media policy. They should work together, not in opposition.

Bhaskar Sarma April 12, 2011 at 2:30 am

Thanks a ton for that last link to the collection of social media policies of different organizations. I am in the process of drafting a social media guideline for a non profit and this resource is sure to come in handy.

Jeremy Whittaker April 12, 2011 at 3:27 am

Great post! I recently attended a webinar by one of the leading IT analysts firms on this topic and I have to say I got more out of your post than that webinar. One question for you – do you have any specific examples for #6?

Mack Collier April 12, 2011 at 9:36 am

Thank you Jeremy! And I actually covered copyright and Creative Commons licenses in the previous post here – http://mackcollier.com/guide-to-using-copyrighted-pictures-on-blogs/

Gabriele Maidecchi April 12, 2011 at 5:16 am

I think that the more your employees are involved in the creation of such a policy the better it is. This way they won’t just understand it, but also contribute to it, and they’ll feel part of the whole game, rather than just subject to it.

Mack Collier April 12, 2011 at 9:38 am

Gabriele I think internal communication on exactly what the policy entails and why it is important is definitely key, not just during the creation process, but for new employees as well.

Kathy Manweiler April 12, 2011 at 10:21 am

Mack, this is such a helpful post! Our foundation is in the process of creating our formal social media/blogging policy, and some of the content in this post will help guide us along the way. I love the flow chart of the Air Force response policies. It makes a lot of sense and gives clear guidelines for what to do in situations where the responders could find themselves flustered or unsure about how to proceed. When I create social media content, I always stick to the rule of not writing anything that I would be uncomfortable seeing on the front page of a newspaper. But I think that now I’m going to switch my rule to “Google never forgets.”
Thanks, Mack! @kansashealthorg

Moondustwriter April 12, 2011 at 6:57 pm

So easy to run aground if you dont take these into consideration
thanks!!!

Donna Gilliland April 13, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Mack, I appreciate the points in your blog. I work with many HR professionals in the course of my work who express concern about employees use of social media. Many do not have a social media policy in place. I am currently working with a client to develop a general guidelines policy. I think that employee handbooks should include a section on social media in the workplace. I am working on a project on this very topic.

I will point people to your blog post Mack as the points will be helfpul to many. Do you mind if I post a survey I have created on this topic? I will not post until you give me permission to do so.

Keep up the great work!

Cheers, Donna

VilmaBonilla May 17, 2011 at 10:44 am

Employee Handbooks are usually all inclusive containing company policies, guidelines, code of conduct, and electronic communications sections. The handbook covers many Human Resource, employee relations topics, and is a living document updated on a yearly basis. Many key sections are covered during new hire orientation.

pamelamaeross June 26, 2011 at 8:03 am

Mack, Another relevant, useful post! I’m in the process of writing a social media policy right now, and will make sure we consider all of these points. It’s such a difficult balance to strike – we want to engage our employees but at the same time keep the best interest of the company in mind. Thanks for another helpful post!

Pam

Steve Hartley January 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

As crazy as it may sound, I’ve found that the first thing to be done is to ensure everyone knows that you have a social media policy. People at branch locations that know they are never allowed to create their own advertising somehow think it’s okay for them to attempt to establish a social media presence for the entire organization.

Mack Collier January 13, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Doesn’t sound crazy at all, great point, Steve!

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