If your company is using social media you need a social media policy. If your company isn’t using social media directly (but rest assured, others out there are talking about you online) you need a social media policy.
And as much as no one wants to sit around and draft another version of the employee handbook, it’s important to take the time to establish social media guidelines so you are not surprised (and can act accordingly) when something bad (or good!) happens to the reputation of your company in the social space.
We’ve all been there before: New technology, new trends and the new dreaded corporate guidelines that make said trends less fun by dictating how we use them. Social media is no different. However, the inherent nature of this new media calls for policies that—gasp!—should be flexible and have the ability to change as social media evolves (which it does, daily).
Make sure that every employee fully understands your brand voice and what that means in the social sense. This may mean a set of written guidelines that are placed in your employee handbook. Or, it may mean a one-page document that speaks in general terms about what is and is not appropriate to do online as it relates to your company or your brand.
Whatever the depth of the plan, here’s a list of five guidelines as your starting point when thinking about getting that social media policy in writing:
Think like a spokesperson. Social media has given a voice to everyone, so each employee and company representative with a Facebook page or Twitter account is a company spokesperson. Think about the rules or guidelines your spokespeople have. If they are limited on what they can and can’t reveal about the company or have specific messaging in regards to particular topics, you may want to implement the same guidelines for employees using social media. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to give your employees a voice; they are your brand ambassadors and should be free to give kudos where it’s due in the social space.
Designate representatives. Decide who your social media representatives are and outline specific duties and involvement. It’s OK to have one or two employees involved or to have everyone involved. Just remember that each individual voice representing your brand is just that—an individual voice that will share ideas and opinions—some of which you may not agree with.
Use real words. If your social media policies are full of corporate jargon, no one is going to understand them, much less follow them. Write your plans the way you would using a social media platform; in plain language, talking to real people in a conversation.
Identify off-limit subjects. Decide ahead of time what can and cannot be discussed and share that with your company’s social media representatives. Don’t assume that everyone knows what is controversial or aligned with your brand’s culture and ethics. And don’t assume everyone’s idea of “using common sense” is the same. Think about every angle. The more specific you are, the easier your guidelines will be to enforce.
Open a discussion. Ignorance is not bliss. Pretending or hoping that your employees are not representing you on social networks is ridiculous. It’s happening. Talk to employees about their engagement and solicit ideas for your corporate social media policy.
And last but not least, remember that social media isn’t named such for nothing. It’s personalities. It’s opinions. It’s social. It would be virtually impossible to remove these personalities and opinions and still campaign successfully. And who would want to? Your goal should be to listen, to be involved and to contribute—strategically, ethically and tactfully.
Messages can be fun and controlled at the same time. Guidelines can be implemented while still maintaining growth. And social media policies can be drafted in a fun, easy way using these guidelines and your own employees as a starting point.
Even if you don’t have a set of rigorous company policies and guidelines (much less a social media policy), when it comes to this ever-changing new media, it’s important to at least start the conversation. Get something in writing, but be prepared to keep it flexible. Your plan should grow–with you and with the changing landscape of social media.