How to Create Social Media Guidelines for Your Business

Can you remember the first time you got into trouble with your parents? Perhaps you were standing on the kitchen table with muddy shoes on. Maybe you had just given the family dog an impromptu mohawk. You might have been fighting with your sibling and broken a family heirloom. Before you could mumble “wasn’t me” your parents had scolded you and if you had a middle name, it was being used. However, with this reprimand probably came some advice and encouragement for the behavior that was expected of you. This was your earliest introduction to social media guidelines.

Like parental guidance, a good set of social media guidelines can help you not only understand what was done wrong, but hopefully help your brand avoid mishaps in the first place. Of course mistakes happen, but social media guidelines work to prevent avoidable online catastrophes. Continue reading to see how you can create a set of comprehensive social media guidelines to establish organization-wide expectations without ever uttering the phrase “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.”

The difference between a social media policy and social media guidelines

Social media policy and social media guidelines are the kinds of terms that commonly get used interchangeably. When you get started with your social media guidelines, you may feel inclined to call them a policy, but you need to know some key differences.

While similar, creating and providing social media guidelines for your business will offer you a more flexible experience and room for edits along the way. Social media guidelines act more as principles to guide employee and company behavior on social media. Guidelines are also positioned more as best practices and suggestions.

On the other hand, policies are concrete and usually mandatory for employees to follow. You don’t mess around with a policy without facing consequences. For more on this, check out our previous post How to Write A Social Media Policy for Your Company.

Why your business needs social media guidelines

You may be thinking that a social media policy is enough, but guidelines can provide much more in-depth information and context for your brand’s strategy. Your employees hold a lot of power, and you want to make sure this power is being used for good. By creating comprehensive social media guidelines, you can:

  • Encourage compliance across your organization so that employees and executives know what is expected of them on social media
  • Equip your employees with the confidence to effectively engage on social media
  • Give context to your overall social media strategy
  • Make it easier to measure where things fall short when they don’t adhere to these guidelines
  • Educate those in your organization on social media best practices—skills that they will be able to take with them throughout their career
  • Help to protect your brand’s reputation on social media

Now that you know a few benefits of having social media guidelines, it’s time to start thinking about how you are going to establish some of your own.

Social media guidelines your business needs to have

If you started thinking about all of the different areas of social media that you could create guidelines for, you’d quickly find yourself overwhelmed. Think about the information your employees need to know the most, and what you would like to convey to them. Consider:

  • What are your brand’s priorities?
  • What kinds of social media activities would disrupt your brand’s social media strategy?
  • Are there any sensitive areas you need your employees to know about?
  • What kind of image and brand voice do you want to convey?

Getting into the nitty gritty of social media guidelines could be an endless task, but there are definitely some specific areas you should focus on.

Social media guidelines for interacting with influencers

An obvious core function of social media is to connect with others. However, it can sometimes be difficult to know exactly how to do this. As a brand, you also want to ensure that your employees know how and when to connect with others on social media—especially when they are dealing with influencers. There’s nothing worse than accidentally burning bridges with a key influencer in your industry, especially when it could have been prevented through some general social media guidelines.

The first thing you want to outline with your influencer social media guidelines is whether you want your employees engaging with influencers at all. This might seem brash, but if you have a dedicated team of social media marketers who are specialized in doing this and have built meaningful relationships, you might want to discourage your other employees from trying to jump into online conversations. Carefully outline the team members who are permitted to connect with influencers, and explain why. Not only will this save you from potential mishaps, but it will take the pressure off of employees who may have felt as if they should be engaging with certain influencers on social.

However, for those who are going to be interacting with influencers on social media, you definitely want to set some guidelines. A good place to start is by thinking about the areas you want to cover. For example, communications and PR firm Ogilvy and Mathers has created a very thorough set of social media guidelines that specifically touch upon interacting with influencers. They outline these in five core areas:

1. Disclosure

Ogilvy works on behalf of clients in the social media realm, so they want to ensure that they are always disclosing themselves as Ogilvy whenever corresponding with influencers and fans. There also needs to be a clear purpose, as they explain, “In our communication we will convey why we think an influencer or fan, in particular, might be interested in our client’s product, issues, event, or message.”

2. Transparency

Working with social media influencers can be a tricky game, so Ogilvy makes sure they clearly outline expectations and transparency. They state that influencers, and those who represent them, are never expected to create positive content for them or their clients, no matter what the influencer status. Additionally, “We won’t pretend to have read an influencer’s blog or other content if we haven’t, and we’ll always get to know an influencer before we reach out to them.”

3. Relevancy

Social media influencers get an overwhelming number of emails and social media messages, so you better make sure that your company’s offer is relevant. Ogilvy’s social media guidelines states that they will ensure that they, as a company, will always know who they are trying to engage and not aimlessly contact influencers.

Ensure your employees are always thinking about how they can add value to, and benefit from a partnership with a social media influencer. As Ogilvy’s social media guidelines respectfully state “We will seek to present influencers with a range of opportunities to work together around a campaign, so that he/she can create the best experience possible for their audience. We acknowledge that, when it comes to knowing their audience, they are the expert.”

4. Value exchange

When it comes to creating a set of social media guidelines that involve others such as influencers, you will find that there are a lot of ethical aspects at play. Ogilvy sums this up by saying “If we reach out to an influencer about a product, campaign or issue, we will not provide monetary compensation (e.g. cash, cash cards, similar cash-like offers) for them to produce positive content about the product, service or brand, because we believe it is bad practice to ‘buy’ favorable reviews and do not want to appear as if we are.”

Consider what the right thing to do is, and how you want your employees to conduct themselves. Your social media guidelines are the perfect place to outline these values.

5. Privacy

When dealing with influencers, privacy is the most important area you need to outline in your social media guidelines. For Ogilvy, this means that, “Before we email an influencer, we will check out the site/blog’s About, Contact and Advertising page in an effort to see if he/she has said he/she does not like to be contacted by PR/Marketing companies.”

Make sure that your employees know how to respect an influencer’s privacy, and preferred mode of contact. There’s no better way to burn an influencer bridge than by ignoring or breaching these guidelines.

By outlining these areas in your social media guidelines—as well as any others you think are relevant for your brand—you are helping your employees make the most valuable connections possible.

Social media guidelines for social customer service

Social media customer service, or social customer care, can help you understand your audience and customer on a deeper level through their pain points, concerns, questions, and needs. The first thing you want to clarify in your social media guidelines, is that the customer’s needs are a priority. Make sure employees across the organization are on the same page here, as you’ll face big problems if not.

Your social media customer service guidelines should also outline:

  • Those within the organization who are authorized to address social customer support inquiries
  • How the company wishes to deal with complaints (such as how many social media interactions need to take place before the conversation is brought offline, etc.)
  • The target response time for social media customer service inquiries
  • A set of key messaging for dealing with the most common general inquiries
  • Next steps once the inquiry is addressed

Satisfied and happy customers are the backbone of your business, and with social customer support becoming a more and more common way of providing this, you need to ensure everyone has a clear understanding of what is expected.

Social media guidelines for image use

A picture’s worth a thousand words, so you need to make sure that those in your organization know how to properly (and legally) use images. You will want to start with two main sets of social media image guidelines—one outlining the legal aspects of copyright and image licenses, and another area outlining best practices and social network-specific tips and sizing restrictions. Your employees should take away from your guidelines:

  • The best image size for each social media platform
  • How to choose an effective social media image
  • The differences in licenses and what image licenses they are permitted to use and work with
  • Where to find Creative Commons images (hint: 20 Free Stock Photo Sites for Your Social Media Images)
  • The types of images that work with your brand voice

Bonus: Get the always-up-to-date social media image size cheat sheet. The free resource includes recommended photo dimensions for every type of image on every major network.

Advertising guidelines

If your social media strategy includes paid opportunities, you will want to set advertising guidelines for your team. In addition to general advertising guidelines, include information on:

  • Budgets and expected costs
  • The advertising copy and design process
  • The goals of your brand’s advertising efforts
  • Projected timelines and advertising campaign lengths

You will also want to include platform-specific information in your social media advertising guidelines. The following links from each core social media platform offer the key areas you will want to include.

While there are countless areas you could create social media guidelines for, the above offer a solid place to start. A good set of social media guidelines will equip your employees with the information they need to succeed online, and keep your brand’s reputation in-check.

Put your social media guidelines to use with Hootsuite.

Learn More