Your business needs a social media policy.
Let me illustrate why:
Many of our clients at Cross Border PR embrace social media wholeheartedly. One in particular, is a service provider with $20M in revenue.
One day, the CEO attended a conference call with one of their clients, where it was announced that their client company’s president was retiring. Because there were several hundred people on that call, my client’s CEO felt it was ok to tweet about it. And he did. To all 200 of his followers.
Lo and behold, the CEO was shocked and embarrassed when he got a call from his client. Apparently, what he tweeted was not public knowledge. His innocent little tweet had set off a chain reaction, which turned into a PR situation for his client. As a result, this CEO got his hand slapped for leaking something confidential.
Was the CEO at fault?
What should he have done?
What could his client have done to avoid the leak in the first place?
The answers lie in a social media policy.
Why You Need a Social Media Policy
Any business that uses social media to achieve its corporate goals needs a social media policy in place.
A policy will help you to have a consistent social media presence — even when a dozen voices are speaking on your company’s behalf. It will help protect your company’s reputation. As in my example above, a social media policy would have prevented that information leak and other PR blunders.
A social media policy will also empower your employees — not just those who have the official role of spokespersons for your company, but each and every person who works for you. Policies will give them clear direction in their use of the various social media platforms, and serve as a guide for decision-making when a social media conflict or conundrum comes up.
How to Formulate a Social Media Policy
Your company’s social media policy can be as short or as long, as simple or as complicated as you want. Ideally, though, it should have the following essential elements. These are the building blocks, which will help you create a structure to support your social media marketing.
1. Your Goals for Social Media Marketing
Begin your policy by stating what your company wants to accomplish through social media. This sets the context for the rest of your policies. These will also help you make decisions about issues that may come up but aren’t covered by your policy.
2. Your Social Media Audience
Make it clear who you’re trying to reach out to, which social media platforms they use, and how you want your company to engage with them. Are most of your customers on Twitter and most of your investors are on LinkedIn? Mapping this out will help you formulate specific guidelines for the different social media.
3. Core Values
What does your company stand for, that your employees must embody even in their personal social media engagement? Examples include respect, tolerance, professionalism.
Specify which people in your company are the official spokespersons — for all media. These are the ones who are authorized to grant interviews to journalists and bloggers. These spokespersons are representatives of your company. Some will manage your company’s social media accounts and be responsible for public announcements from your company.
5. Employee Roles
The rest of your company employees need to know what their role is, even if they aren’t official spokespersons. They need to appreciate that other people will always see them as extensions of your company. This means what they publish on their personal, public social media accounts will have an impact on your company’s social media footprint.
Clarifying this role includes putting a cap on how much time employees can spend engaging in social media while on official time. Are they allowed to use Twitter or Facebook during company hours and using the office computers? Can they download social media apps on their office-issued smart phones? Make a management decision and put it into your social media policy.
6. Social Media Content
What can spokespersons and other employees publish in social media about your company? Are employees (non-spokespersons) allowed to publicize their association with your company? How about consultants and vendors?
In my client’s example, his client should have had a policy of publishing a press release about big announcements, especially right after making it to a large audience. The hundreds of people on that conference call couldn’t be expected to keep the announcement to themselves.
Look back on your company’s core values and list the types of content, which are inconsistent with them. These may include flaming people in public, racial slurs, crude jokes about people with varying physical abilities, political statements, and maligning colleagues and supervisors.
You may want to unequivocally state that employees cannot complain about company policies on social networks. Or that they can’t talk about your company’s clients and projects — unless this has been published officially, such as on the company website or through press releases. Also include policies about photographs of company events, premises and personnel.
It’s also helpful to have stock answers available to the most frequently asked questions about your products or services.
7. Approval Process
When in doubt, who should decide whether something can be posted in social media? Map out an approval process, but don’t make it long and complicated. You need to be able to put out relevant information fast and you don’t want to completely stifle a personality either.
8. Monitoring, Tracking and Sanctions
Policies work only when they’re being implemented. And that requires tracking and monitoring. Who will be monitoring your company’s social media presence and your employees’ social media use? Fortunately, technology makes this easier than it’s ever been. Make somebody responsible for this or it will never get done.
Also very important, what are the sanctions for violating social media policies? Be reasonable and fair.
9. Social Media Platforms
Each social media platform has its unique features, strengths and weaknesses. It’s necessary to provide specific guidelines, at least for the main ones, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.
10. Personal vs Business
Nowadays the line separating business and personal use of social media has gotten blurred. People will consider any employee to be a representative of your company, even if he or she isn’t a designated spokesperson. This means every personal tweet, every photo uploaded on Facebook, every job description published on LinkedIn will reflect on you.
Remember this when you’re drawing up your social media policy. That said, the temptation may be great to simply disallow employees to identify themselves with your company. However, that would greatly reduce the reach and impact you could have. Strive for a balance.
Your social media policy isn’t set in stone. You can make broad strokes for now, see what the real opportunities and risks are, and tweak along the way.
What is your company’s social media policy? If you don’t have one yet, start outlining a social media policy — before you think you need it. For inspiration, read IBM’s social computing policy.
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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