The workplace of 2016 is one that emphasizes fun, a relaxed environment, and the quest for cool. As businesses move toward less rigid structures and more casual workplace cultures, the line between personal and professional conduct becomes more blurred by the day. While there are countless benefits to a work environment where your employees are able to be themselves—a 53 percent increase in team morale and a 20 percent increase in performance according to the National Workplace Flexibility Study—having certain boundaries in place is a good idea for any organization.
I know the idea of having “no chill” might send shivers down your spine, but the creation of something such as a social media policy will do more to benefit your employees than hinder them. Writing such a policy shouldn’t be painful, so we’re here to help with the following guide.
Why does a business need a social media policy?
Social media is still a relatively new area of culture for companies to consider, so you may be wondering whether you actually need a social media policy. For most businesses, whether big or small, the answer will be yes. However, small business are especially prone to the kinds of issues a social media policy can prevent.
With a guide of this type in place, employees can be trusted to exercise their creativity and show their personalities without worry or stress that what they’re sharing on social media could negatively impact their careers or jobs. To help emphasize the need for a social policy, Entrepreneur cites three key reasons to implement one:
- Protect your company’s reputation: “A social media policy takes the guesswork out of what is appropriate for employees to post about your company to their social networks.”
- Minimize confusion about murky legal issues: “Social media policies can also help entrepreneurs and managers avoid errors.”
- Raise awareness of your brand: “Too often organizations think about social media policies as a list of restrictions. But having clear guidelines can also help employees understand ways they can use social media to help achieve business goals. For instance, policies should advise employees how they can comment on blogs or social networks to boost brand awareness and drive traffic to the company’s site.”
Now that you have a basic idea of why your small business needs a social media policy, the following will help you build your very own.
Purpose of a social media policy
The first thing you must consider when getting to work on your company’s social media policy is your purpose. Why does your company want or need a social media policy? Have you had previous issues that can offer learning experiences as a starting point, or are there specific problems you foresee arising? Tackle these parts of your policy first, and build from there. Figure out what your social media policy will be used for, and, importantly, what it will NOT be used for. You most likely are not looking to completely sanitize your employee’s online presence and create an army of personality-less robots, but rather educate them on what is appropriate and respectful means of communications—lessons that will carry them not only through their careers, but to that magical land of offline communication as well.
Rules and regulations
Once you have a clear purpose in mind, it’s time to actually get down to structuring your social media policy. This will usually revolve around a set of rules and guidelines, with room for personal input as needed on a business-by-business basis. You will want to cover two main areas in your policy: how employees are using their own social media accounts and how your company is using social media (and those involved in conduct here).
There are countless topics you could include in a social media policy, so it’s key that you build a guide based on your top priorities. Additionally, you need to recognize that this will be a live document and will never 100 percent complete. With new social media platforms and features being introduced regularly, a small business’ social media policy will need to adapt to these changes. With this in mind, the following areas are great starting points and sections for inclusion in a small business social media policy.
To ensure there is no miscommunication, it’s important to define roles within your organization. You have a much higher chance of your social media policy being successful if you can establish everyone’s roles prior to the implementation. Who is responsible for what? What do these responsibilities include?
As we describe in our blog post explaining social media management, “This structure is usually fronted by the head of social media, who leads a working group made up of representatives from marketing management, IT, social media marketing, legal and audit, and human resources. The governance architecture should not only explain who is responsible for what, but also address such things as the scope of your social media efforts, branding guidelines, approval processes, continuity planning, and training and education.”
While you can only exercise so much control over your employee’s personal social media accounts (and thankfully so, for both parties), when it comes to your brand’s official social accounts, you are responsible for defining core guidelines. Some key areas you want to cover here are:
- Legal issues
- Respectful conduct
This is kind of an important one. You definitely want to ensure that your company doesn’t land in any legal trouble that could have been avoided if only a social media policy was in place. As Inc. explains, small businesses want to make sure that “Internet postings must respect copyright, privacy, fair use, financial disclosure, and other applicable laws.” It’s your responsibility to ensure that those with control over your social media accounts understand the importance of and are citing work and content if reposting or borrowing from other sources. Research other areas of legal concern that might be relevant to your small business social media policy in your geographical area, and dedicate the time and space to highlighting the importance of this.
Within the legal portion of your policy, it’s also recommended that you emphasize privacy and disclosure clauses. Make sure your employees know to protect confidential information, whether the brands’, their own, or their customers’. Staying within the law makes an impact on conduct, with the most important rule here as follows.
Two wrongs don’t make a right
One of the toughest issues anybody has to deal with on social media is that of negative comments, instigators, and plain old trolls. It’s common sense that your brand and its employees should stay out of trouble, not start fights, and keep the posts kind and polite, but often you will experience others who lack such common sense. Think about how you would like those representing your brand to react, or not, in the face of such interactions. As you know, there are many different approaches and ways companies and individuals can react in the face of negativity or provocation. To decide how you want your business to deal with negativity, think about your company’s values. Do you value timeliness over perfection? How do you want your brand to be seen? We offer the following tips for dealing with trolls, which cover a lot of negative interactions online as examples for how you might want to deal with negativity in your social media policy:
- Listen and correct mistakes on your end
- Respond with facts
- Diffuse the situation with humour
- Block or ban when appropriate
- Come up with your own unique response
Social media policy examples and resources
The amount of times per day that I say “I love the internet” is usually due to a dog video or ten, but the number of resources and examples showing comprehensive social media policies causes a similar response. While we summed up the key parts and areas of consideration with this blog post, if you’re looking for more detail on creating a social media policy for your small business the main area of the web I would turn to is the Social Media Governance Policy Database.
Here, you will find a ton of examples from companies big and small, which can offer you a more detailed insight into how companies are actually building and using their social media policies. Some of our favorite examples include:
Corporate Social Media Policy Examples
- Adidas Group Social Media Guidelines
- Social Media Guidelines for AP Employees
- Kodak’s Social Media Tips for Employees
- Reuters’ Reporting from the Internet and Using Social Media
- Shift Communications Guidelines for Social Media Participation
Government Social Media Policy Example
Now that you have a grasp of what a social media policy should look like, you can make your own and get back to concentrating on actually creating and sharing your content!