Social media is more than just this moment's hot topic. It represents a fundamental shift in how companies do business, how consumers interact with them, and how a brand's voice is established in a new marketplace. In today's society, you can't hide. You're no longer a faceless entity, but the sum of your online interactions.
Send your employees out into the wild without teaching them the rules of the land, and you risk damaging both your brand and that person's position in your company. You can't afford either.
As the web continues to get more social and as employees continue to become more immersed in social media (both at home and in the workplace), it's becoming increasingly necessary for companies to take the time to create a formal policy. Doing so will solidify your company's brand image and give employees guidelines to use as part of informal learning opportunities such as consulting with colleagues on work-related issues, sharing useful professional resources, and connecting with potential mentors or experts who may someday help the company.
Your policy should be written to empower employees to get involved, while also reaffirming the company's stance, opinion, and views on participation.
What is it?
Think of your social media policy as a new type of employee handbook. Except instead of providing guidelines to help employees adapt to your company internally, your social media policy helps them to adapt externally. It's a living and breathing document that employees can use to learn how they should be interacting on social sites, what type of information they're allowed to share, in what capacity they can share it, and how to handle common issues or situations that may come up.
Do you really need one? Yes. Here are a few examples that possibly could have been avoided had employees had guidelines to follow:
- Recently, employees from The Red Cross and Chrysler Autos accidently published tweets from their corporate accounts that were intended for private ones. The result for both companies was an embarrassing brand mishap that could have been avoided if someone had instructed employees to use different browsers for personal versus company social media use.
- Social media interns are being fired for taking the wrong tone with customers online, or when they become frazzled at negative feedback and lash out. If they had a document detailing how to handle these situations, they'd be better suited to keep their cool.
The way that you build your social media policy for your team will be based on how you see employees using social platforms as part of their natural job functions. For example, if you have an active presence on social media whereby employees will be pitching in to that effort, you'll want to encourage internal discussion among employees, talk about proper use of certain platforms, and indicate who owns the accounts they're creating.
If your social media policy is addressing personal social media use (either at work or at home), then it will likely cover topics such as social media during work time, company and client confidentiality, and when disciplinary action can be taken.
Below are some guidelines common to all social media policies:
- Explain why social media is important to the company. Instead of rattling off a list of things employees are forbidden from doing, help them understand the importance of social media to your company. What does the company hope to achieve by being accessible on Twitter and Facebook, and how can that employee help you meet your goals? When you make employees part of the process instead of ruling them like children, it empowers them to become great brand advocates.
- Help employees define who they're representing. Depending on your company's social media goals, employees may take on very different roles. Help employees understand their part by explaining who they are: Are they engaging as themselves (Jane Smith), as a representative of your company (CompanyJane), or as the company itself (CompanyName)? By giving them this information, it helps shape their expectations and responsibilities and resolves any confusion that may come down the road, such as who owns the account when an employee leaves.
- Break down common sites. What social media sites will be part of your employees' daily functions? Will they be on Twitter? On Facebook? Blogging onsite? Participating in forums? Break down all of the common sites so that employees are better able to respond there.
- Explain how to handle common occurrences. How should employees handle customer service complaints? What about "Negative Nancies?" How do they respond to well-known issues? What do they do should a scandal break? Create a best practices document inside your policy to help employees understand how to deal with common situations, especially those in which emotions may be involved.
- Be clear about at-home social media use. When employees become brand advocates, there's no such thing as off-the-clock. If an employee is using an account that points to your company, the same rules that apply in-house must apply outside the office. Make sure you're clear that the company's brand message must be upheld at all touch points and in all interactions. And that applies even when they're participating from their home computer on a Saturday afternoon. Make it a point of pride for them and something they want to live up to.
Your social media policy is your company's definitive word on how employees should be using platforms with which they may be unfamiliar. By arming them with a roadmap, you create a stronger brand through consistent messaging, develop more advocates through increased voices, and nurture employees to feel more empowered in their jobs.
You wouldn't run a company without a business plan, so don't let employees loose in social media without giving them a plan as well.