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Social Media Policy: Just Do It

Posted by Mark Bennett on April 15, 2011

If your company doesn’t have a social media policy, make one.

Start now.

Why should your company have a social media policy? What makes a good one? Why should you care?

Think about all the stories you’ve seen of the damage caused by the thoughtless tweet, the ill-considered Facebook page, the revenge-minded YouTube video, or the “anonymous” comment-rant on a blog. Even though a policy won’t guarantee protection, especially from malicious intent, it puts into place a foundation from which individuals and organization can make decisions on how to act.

Other policies are not enough

The key thing about a social media policy is that even though it can (and should) be based on already (hopefully) existing communication, acceptable use, ethics and business conduct, information protection, copyright, anti-discrimination, harassment-free workplace, etc. policies, you can’t rely on them to guide behavior on social media. It certainly helps to shorten your social media policy, though, so use them as your foundation.

Why aren’t those policies enough? Social media is blurring the line between personal and business life. As much as some people might want to keep these two separate in social media, the platforms have made this incredibly difficult. So, while someone might think, “Oh, what I say about work to my friends on Facebook is just amongst us”, it just isn’t the case. Or, “My tweet about the town where my customer’s office is located will be understood as not to be taken offensively.” Or, “No one will know that my anonymous comment on an analyst’s blog came from me.” You get the idea. People are still getting used to how quickly what they say will be circulated across the web and interpreted, analyzed, misquoted, and so on.

Keep it simple

What makes a good social media policy then? Why does it matter? It should be as brief as possible and not try to go into strategies for effective use, which platforms to use, etc. Otherwise, its purpose will be unclear (or unread.)

Here’s a brief checklist of what to consider:

  1. Use and reference your existing policies as previously listed. Explain why there needs to be a few more items in order to cover social media, to protect both the individual as well as the company.
  2. Right after that, make sure you cover disclaimers. No one is an official spokesperson unless trained/designated to be one. All others must state that their views are their own and do not represent those of the company. Even so, of course, the rest of the policy is about how the world will still see their behavior as a reflection on the company.
  3. Take the time to cover “Common Sense.” Don’t just say, “Apply Common Sense.” Go into a little bit about how social media is not as private as people might assume. That competitors will actually go out there and look for things your employees are saying. That what they think might be held as a common belief or value might be true in their local region (or just their house), but not elsewhere in the world.
  4. Emphasize respect and civility as key in making social media productive. It doesn’t mean you aren’t standing up for your position just because you are being polite about it. Do not start flame wars and do not get sucked into one.
  5. Honor copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, etc. of all, not just your own organization.
  6. Even though individuals can’t expect privacy themselves, they should honor the privacy of others.
  7. Be transparent in your relationships, affiliations, etc. when it does not violate confidentiality and others’ privacy.
  8. Don’t be anonymous. It usually doesn’t work and besides, it defeats why you are on social media. Whistleblowers and human rights activists may need to be anonymous, but that is a special case and goes beyond what a social media policy typically covers.
  9. Get permission from others before using their content and ideas.
  10. Admit mistakes when they happen and apologize. Somewhere along the way, even with a policy, someone will make a mistake.

Is that it? To get a social media policy in place, yes. You do not want to overcomplicate things. It will make it take too long and people won’t read it. You also don’t want to burden everybody with so many rules that they end up not even using social media out of fear.

What about all the stuff about how social media should be used to benefit the business? That’s something that should be covered outside of the policy. The policy is the foundation. Get it done. Cover effective social media use in training, coaching, guidelines, sharing of practices, etc. We’ll address that in a future post.

One Response to “Social Media Policy: Just Do It”

  1. […] wrote a while ago that if you don’t already have a social media policy, then make one. Build it off of existing policies around communication, acceptable behavior, etc. but don’t just […]

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