No matter what industry you’re in, every modern business needs to have social media guidelines.
Social media guidelines lay out the best social practices for your employees. In some cases, these rules are required by law or for legal protection. But ultimately, the goal of these guidelines is to empower employees with the information they need to make the right choices on social media, both for themselves, and for the company.
This is true even if your company doesn’t have a social media presence yet. Whether you have an official Twitter account or Instagram profile or not, you’d better believe your employees are out there on the internet, chatting up a storm.
This article will review:
- The difference between a social media policy and social media guidelines
- Real-life examples from other brands
- How to use our free social media guidelines template to create your own set of guidelines
Bonus: Get a free, customizable social media guidelines template to quickly and easily create recommendations for your company and employees.
Social media guidelines are suggestions for how employees of a company should represent themselves and the company on their personal social media accounts.
Think of social media guidelines as an employee manual for social media best practices.
They should outline how to behave on social media in a way that’s positive and healthy for the company, employees, and customers alike. Social guidelines may include etiquette tips, helpful tools, and links to important resources.
Importantly, we really don’t recommend prohibiting employees from using social, or restricting them from talking about your company at all. It’s not a good look to police or censor your team members’ social presence: talk about a morale killer, and say goodbye to any organic ambassador opportunities.
Social media guidelines, it should be noted, are different from your company’s social media policy. They’re also distinct from your social media style guide.
A social media policy is a comprehensive document that describes in detail how the company and its employees use social media. These policies are intended to protect a brand from legal risk, and maintain its reputation on social media. Where a social media policy lays out the rules and repercussions for breaking them, social media guidelines are more instructive.
A social media style guide, meanwhile, defines the brand voice, brand visuals, and other important marketing elements. It is often used by the content creators in an organization to ensure that their posts are “on brand”.
One more distinction: social media guidelines are also different from community guidelines, which set the rules for public engagement with your account or group.
Want to learn more? Take Hootsuite Academy’s free course Implementing Social Media Governance Within your Organization.
Every single employee (yes, including Maurice in accounting) is a potential online brand ambassador. Sharing social media guidelines is your chance to provide the whole team with tools to help them hype you up positively, inclusively, and respectfully.
Use social media guidelines to:
- Empower your employees to engage positively on their personal social accounts
- Educate on social media best practices
- Encourage employees to follow your official accounts or use official hashtags
- Distribute your company’s social media strategy
- Introduce employees to helpful third-party tools and resources, such as Hootsuite’s social media dashboard or Hootsuite Academy training
- Protect your employees from social harassment
- Safeguard your company from cybersecurity risks
- Clarify what information is OK to share, and what is a violation of confidentiality
- Boost your brand’s reputation on social media
While social media guidelines are usually crafted to share with employees, anyone else you’re working with can benefit from these best practices too — think corporate partners, marketing agencies, or influencers.
If you don’t create best practices around how your company is represented or discussed on social media, things can spiral out of control fast. And on the flipside, a lack of social media guidelines also can prevent you from benefiting from employee content. An enthusiastic team member, armed with social guidelines and feeling confident about what they’re allowed to say, can become a powerful ambassador for your brand.
Here’s a rundown of core sections you should include in your social media guidelines. But of course, while these details are common, go ahead and tailor any part of this to fit your brand: after all every industry is different.
In fact, every company is different… so before you lock in any hard and fast rules, you might want to check in with your team. Your employees might have specific questions or concerns that could be helpful to address in your master doc.
1. Official accounts
Identify your company’s official social media channels, and encourage employees to follow. This isn’t just a chance to gain a few more followers: it’s an excellent opportunity to demo to employees how your brand presents itself on social media.
You might also want to identify specific hashtags, too, if those are a core part of your social strategy.
In some cases, companies either allow or require certain employees to run brand-affiliated social accounts. If that’s something your business does, this is a good place in your social guidelines to explain how a team member can (or can’t) be authorized for their own branded account.
2. Disclosure and transparency
If your team members are proudly identifying on their social accounts that they work for your company, it’s a good idea to ask them to clarify that they’re creating social media posts on behalf of themselves, not your brand. Adding a disclosure to their social profile or bio that “All opinions expressed are my own” (or similar) helps make it clear that these are not official viewpoints.
That being said, if they’re going to discuss company-related matters on social, it’s actually required by law that they identify themselves as an employee. This one’s a rule, not a friendly suggestion. In fact, in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission requires the identification to occur in the relevant post. Just noting it in a bio is not enough.
An example of a Google employee’s Twitter bio
It never hurts to remind your team that confidential company information is confidential off the clock, too. Whether private info about coworkers, financial disclosures, upcoming products, private communications, research and development intel, or other sensitive information, clarify that privacy and confidentiality should be respected across all social media platforms.
4. Cyber safety
Cyber hacks and threats are no joke. Even if your employees are vigilant about phishing scams and the like, it never hurts to review cyber-safety basics, especially if you collect information about customers or clients.
Cyber safety first!
A quick refresh of cyber security 101:
- Choose strong passwords
- Use a different password for every social account
- Don’t use the same passwords for your corporate accounts
- Use two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication to login to social networks
- Limit the personal and professional information you share
- Use personal credentials for personal accounts
- Make sure your Internet connection is secure
- Do not download or click on suspicious content
- Only activate geolocation services on apps when necessary
- Practice safe browsing
Guidelines commonly remind staff to be kind on social media. But beyond promoting positivity, businesses should also make clear that they do not tolerate any form of social media harassment.
On the flip side of that is an opportunity to provide your employees with support should they experience harassment. Define your policy for dealing with trolls or bullies, whether it’s to report them, ignore them, or block or ban them.
Tell people how to report issues they may have seen or experienced. If support is needed, tell employees how and where they can get it.
Providing protocol and tools is going to help your team nip problems in the bud before it grows into a full-blown social media crisis.
It’s important for every employer and brand to promote inclusivity on and off social media. Encouraging your employees to do the same is a way to show that you care about them, too.
Inclusivity guidelines may include:
- Use inclusive pronouns (they/them/theirs/folks)
- Provide descriptive captions for images
- Be thoughtful about representation
- Don’t make assumptions about gender, race, experience, or ability
- Avoid gender or race-specific emojis
- Feel free to share your preferred pronouns
- Use title case for hashtags (this makes them more legible for screen readers_
- Use diverse imagery and icons. This includes stock imagery, emojis, and branded visuals.
- Report and remove any comments deemed sexist, racist, ableist, ageist, homophobic, or hateful to any group or person
- Make text accessible, using plain language and accessible to people learning English as a second language or those with learning disabilities
7. Legal Considerations
Your social guidelines can include a reminder to employees to respect intellectual property, copyright, trademarks, and other relevant laws. When in doubt, the rule of thumb is relatively simple: if it’s not yours, and you don’t have permission, don’t post it. Easy!
8. Do’s and don’ts
Of course, while you may want to get into detail with the previous sections, making a quick-to-reference list of do’s and don’ts is a chance to spell things out super clearly.
- DO list the company as your employer in your social media bio (if you wish to)
- DON’T engage with competitors in an inappropriate way
- DO share company social media posts, events, and stories
- DON’T share company secrets or confidential information of your colleagues
- DO express your own opinion — just make sure it’s clear you’re not speaking on behalf of the company
- DON’T comment on legal matters pertaining to the company
- DO report harassment you’ve experienced or noticed
- DON’T engage with trolls, negative coverage or comments
9. Helpful resources
You may wish to include links to helpful resources throughout your guideline document, or you might want to list in a separate section. Wherever you put them, it’s a good idea to link to your social media policy, social media style guide, and community guidelines, so everyone has this info at their fingertips.
Other links you might want to include could be:
- company documents
- corporate code of conduct
- employee agreements
- privacy policies
- Marketing, advertising and sales regulations from the Government of Canada and the FTC
If your company offers social media resources, what better place than your social media guidelines to make everyone aware of them? Whether its tools or training from Hootsuite, or stipends for social media classes, empower the people that work for you to put their best foot (feet?) forward on social.
For instance, may we recommend Hootsuite Amplify? It’s a great way to find vetted content to share and enhance your personal brand.
10. Contact Information and Date
Be sure to also add information where questions can be sent. That may be a specific person, a forum or Slack channel, or an email address.
You should also indicate when your guidelines were most recently updated.
Social media guidelines examples
Looking for real world examples of social media guidelines? We’ve assembled a few sources of inspiration.
The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District outlines tips for best practices clearly and concisely. “Freedom of speech must be exercised responsibly,” the page reminds readers. “These recommendations provide a roadmap for constructive, respectful, and productive use of social networking sites.”
Intel makes every effort to assure employees that they’re not here to censor or police their online behavior. “We trust you,” the guidelines say, both explicitly and implicitly. Right off the top, Intel is clear about its wishes: Be Upfront, Focus on the Good, and Use Your Best Judgement.
Stanford University (yep, the same institution Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of) has social media guidelines that are quite dense, but provide lots of resources and context for users. If your social media guidelines are this thorough, it may be a good idea to review the key takeaways with your team in a workshop or seminar to make sure the details aren’t skimmed over.
Bloomberg School of Nursing at the University of Toronto has a very concise, bullet-point list of guidelines that are easy to digest at a glance. It’s a good reminder that how you design your guidelines can help with comprehension, whether it’s a web page, a PDF or a brochure.
Remember that your guidelines can be as long or as a brief as you wish. Sharp News, for example, only has four guidelines for social media use.
The Olympic Committee kept its social media guidelines to one page for the Beijing Olympics — albeit a pretty dense one. Leaning on the “do’s” and “don’ts” makes it clear at a glance what is acceptable and what is frowned upon.
Because Nordstrom is a company that deals with customer service and privacy is important, its social media guidelines are heavily focused on protecting customers. Your own industry will have its own special sensitivities, so adjust your guidelines to fit your specific problem areas (or opportunities!).
Social media guidelines template
We’ve distilled all these hot tips into one free downloadable template. It’s just a simple Google doc and quite easy to use.
Simply make a copy and start plugging in your recommendations to guide your team to social media greatness.
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