How to write a social media usage policy for your business

Kieran Flanagan

Posted by Kieran Flanagan

 

Social media offers new levels of direct access to customers, prospects and the whole online world. When businesses realise the benefits, most want to get involved. Pretty soon, however, they see that it can quickly overwhelm any single individual. So the next natural step is to widen participation to others in the company.

The truth is, of course, that many of these ‘others’ are already participating as individuals. They have Facebook pages, they have Twitter accounts, they comment on forums, some write blogs. And the line between personal and professional are where problems tend to arise. With more and more people speaking for your brand (or appearing to be doing so), the risks can multiply.

The solution is to have a clear policy for what is (and is not) acceptable use of social media – both within the company and when employees comment about the business on an individual basis. This will vary from company to company. For example, if you are a highly regulated financial organisation, you’ll probably need very strict rules to comply with regulatory demands. If you’re a small neighbourhood café, you can generally be more relaxed.

We’ll post links to some example policies (including our own) at the end of this article. But first, here are six things you should consider when writing your own policy:

1. Decide what the policy covers (and what it doesn’t)

Clarity is key. Employees need to know where they stand before they post or tweet anything. While you cannot cater for every eventuality, you can provide broad parameters about what is covered. For example, you may decide that employees can comment on products but not on financial results. It’s your choice.

2. Be clear on approvals

Some types of information are more sensitive than others. It is therefore a good idea to be clear about what types of posts and comments will require approval prior to publishing. The obvious example is commentary relating to financial performance. But you may also decide that anything to do with a forthcoming product must be approved whereas anything about existing products doesn’t.

3. Be realistic and fair

There is something about creating a policy document that can make people go to extremes. Where policies fail it is generally because they attempt to regulate every aspect of employees’ online activity. This in turn becomes both unworkable and demoralising. As a result people either stop taking part or eventually leave the company altogether. So it’s important to strike the right balance between what’s fixed and what’s flexible.

4. Think about having different levels of policy

Not everyone will use social media in the same way. So why should everyone have the same policy? Certainly, there should be a relatively simple baseline that applies to all employees. But beyond this you may need to create separate policies for specific employees – eg those who comment officially on behalf of the company, customer service personnel, company executives etc.

5. Encourage disclaimers on personal communications

Where there is potential for individuals’ comments to be seen as coming from the company, it can be prudent to encourage the use of a disclaimer. This can be as simple as “The opinions expressed here are my personal thoughts and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.” Likewise, however, if you have a corporate page or Twitter account, these shouldn’t be used for personal communications.

6. Employees should be transparent

Whenever an employee comments in relation to their company, its products, its services (or its competitors for the matter), they should always be clear about who they are. Companies regularly get into trouble when it’s discovered that employees are talking a product up or down while hiding behind anonymity. Social media is based to a large extent on trust – break it at your peril.

Of course, creating a policy is one thing, enforcing it is another. How you go about this will greatly contribute to how successful it becomes. Involving staff is key. Get their input on how they currently use social media. Engage them in what the company wants to achieve. Even explore potential scenarios and get their ideas on how the company should deal with them.

By engaging your people in developing the policy, you will not only help them understand why it is important, you may well get some ideas you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

Example social media policies

These are some of the published social media policies published by well-known companies.

If you’re a smaller company and have guidelines you’d like to share, please post them in Comments, below.

 
Kieran Flanagan

Kieran Flanagan

Inbound Marketing Manager

Kieran Flanagan is responsible for salesforce.com's Inbound Marketing strategy in EMEA. He works across holistic strategies to produce transformational marketing that attracts visitors naturally through mediums like search engines, the blogosphere and social media. Kieran is also a keen writer and can be found across the web guest posting on all things inbound marketing.

On Twitter: @searchbrat     On LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/kieranjflanagan

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