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In today’s day and age of “likes” and “follows” being on social media is no longer simply a question, it’s an expectation that your customers and employees have. Your customers expect you to be available to answer any questions they might have and your employees, who are already on social media, are more than eager to answer those questions.  Rather than giving your staff free reign over their social media presence, which could put your entire company at risk: develop and engage a social media policy for your business to ensure your employees know the correct way to interact on various channels. Having a well-executed social media policy not only helps to stave off legal or security problems but can also help protect your company’s reputation – which, unfortunately – in today’s day and age – can dissipate into thin air overnight.

Remember when a Burger King employee posted an image of himself lying in a pile of buns to his Instagram account? There are many more embarrassing examples of “employees gone wild” on social media due to a lack of a social media policy. And it is all too common for a company to have to apologize for an employee’s thoughtless post, tweet, or image. But these sorts of situations can easily be avoided with a proper social media policy.

Let’s start from the beginning:

What is a social media policy?

Basically, it’s your business code of conduct, informing your employees what they can and cannot say (or show) on social media. By setting up a policy, before a problem occurs, you avoid the repercussions of an embarrassing, and often damaging, social media post.

The social media policy outlines how an organization and its individual employees should conduct themselves online. Not only does it help safeguard your brand reputation, but it encourages your employees to share responsibly.

While a rigid social media policy can be ineffective in a social environment that moves at the speed of light, one that is fluid, with ongoing updates will be successful. And it can be as simple as:

  • A well-crafted social media policy defends against security risks and legal issues by outlining the dangers of sharing online and keeping your employees out of trouble.
  • A well-crafted social media policy empowers your staff by unlocking the benefits of employee advocacy, without putting your brand at risk. Your employees want to post, they do it every day, so give them the guidelines they need to accurately represent your organization online.
  • A well-crafted social media policy protects your brand and ensures that whenever someone interacts with your company online, they get the same consistent experience.

As a result, your company will develop a more reliable, trustworthy identity and turn customers into loyal fans and ambassadors.  

What should your social media policy include?

Guidelines on sharing proprietary or confidential company information, posting defamatory, derogatory, or inflammatory content, or posting information or pictures that imply illegal conduct.

What are the benefits of a social media policy?

Whether or not your business is or is not established on social media it is never too early or too late to draw up a policy to help guide decision making as you go forward.

Avoid Legal Trouble and Security Risks

A well-crafted social media policy outlines potential threats and includes instructions on how to avoid them. Social media is a breeding ground for things like copyright and privacy, but a strong social media policy will help safeguard against this.

Depending on your industry, the most pressing threats vary. For example: in healthcare, the most pressing threat are HIPAA privacy laws. Selfies with patients, without written consent, or tweets about patients with medical record information are strictly prohibited. For an industry that relies on its ability to protect its patients, social media can be a dangerous tool if used inappropriately.

Build a Volunteer Internal Brand Ambassador Team

With clear guidance employees that love working for your company will have the freedom to spread that love in a way that ensures they won’t be called into a Friday afternoon meeting with Human Resources. They’ll become the easiest brand ambassadors you’ve ever hired because you’ve already hired them. Give them the freedom to promote your brand using a social media policy that outlines when it’s appropriate to share company content, comment online, and engage, or not engage with your customers.

For example, the social media policy of Best Buy informs its employees that “dishonorable content such as racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and physical disability slurs are not tolerated.” Pretty straightforward.

Consistency Across Channels

What is the voice of your company’s brand? Casual and off-the-cuff? Formal and straight-forward?  Or somewhere in between? Whichever it is – communicate this to your employees. If you have an official brand ambassador team – folks who post to the various social media channels on your behalf – make sure they’re aware of your brand guidelines or standards. This includes proper use of images, video, memes, and other media. Many companies often create separate Twitter handles for their Brand Ambassadors to make it clear to the public that the account in question is an account that speaks on behalf of the company. For example, you might use @companyname_JackJohnson.

In addition to the above, it’s always a good idea if your social media policy is all-encompassing. Make sure to include:

Identify You Social Media Roles

Do you want John Doe, front-line cashier of your business addressing customer complaints on social media? It’s possible you do. If not, make sure your social media policy outlines who may address customer complaints, questions, and comments directed towards your company. If you decide to allow employees to address the public at large, on behalf of your company, make sure they’re armed with your brand guidelines, company etiquette, confidentiality requirements, and the consequences of what will happen if the social media policy is not followed.

A Plan for Conflict

In the blink of an eye, a small comment on social media can quickly blossom into a newsworthy event. If not dealt with appropriately, even the smallest of problems can become huge. Give your employees the guidance they need to handle negative social media. Often the best answer is to have that employee direct the conflict to an appropriately trained member of your staff who knows how to properly handle PR matters and conflict resolution. It’s best to have members of your team identified beforehand. Someone, or some persons capable of handling: crisis response, message approval, customer service, PR management, and social engagement.

Alternately you may also build some content into your social media policy directing employees to address or not address potential conflict.

Make it Personal

You can’t control every like, or comment or picture your employees will post on their social media accounts but you can illustrate how their personal profiles are public and even with the tightest privacy controls – personal opinions often become public.

As the current media has shown time and time again, with individuals voicing their personal views of other people, and then subsequently losing their jobs, you can show your employees that whether they are actively speaking for you, or simply to the world, they are a reflection of your company. Your social media policy can outline basic expectations about how your people should behave.

It’s also a good idea to include to include a clause in your social media policy that each of your employees is an individual and not spokesperson for your company.

Consider Potential Legal Risks

Yes. While the benefits can far outweigh the risks, there are risks involved with using social media. And the larger your social media team is, the larger those risks become. Which is a testament to the fact of how important a clear, well thought out, and well communicated social media policy is. Make sure it includes: how to appropriately cite sources, privacy and disclosure procedures, disclaimers and how to use them, and regulatory challenges.

Keep it Secure

You want to include guidelines in your social media policy that keep your employees secure. This includes defending against fishing scams, ransomware attacks, how to properly create passwords, keeping software updated, devices secure, and responding to security breaches.

Implementation

For years, many companies simply avoided the complexity of social media, by avoiding social media altogether. These days, it’s not simply a choice, it’s a reality. Your employees are using social media. And in doing so they are delivering up to 1,000 times more traffic for your business. By developing a well-crafted social media policy, you’ll avoid the pitfalls and give your employees the freedom and support they need to become your best brand advocates.  

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