Social media policies are on the minds of most business owners these days. After all, nearly everyone we know uses a Facebook account, and lots of people are blogging about their families or uploading videos from last weekend’s party to YouTube. So how do you protect your business when your staff are loose on the social web? The answer is not to lock down Internet access at work – after all, your employees can access Facebook right from their smart phones at their desks. Smart businesses have social media policies which govern the actions of employees in social media – whether on behalf of the company or while on their own time.

Most policies are crafted primarily with company protection in mind.  I’d argue that an equally important goal of your policy should be to eliminate confusion on the part of employees, making it safe for them to engage in social media without constantly asking for guidance (or fouling up). Therefore, a good social media policy needs a number of key elements in order to make it easy for employees to follow and clear for HR and executives to interpret.  Even if you already have a policy, perhaps it’s worth checking to be sure you’re covering the following points.

social-media-policy

flickr: walknboston

  1. State who is approved to speak on behalf of the company in social media. This could be anyone, or it could be only those people who have been specifically certified or trained to do so. You might consider social media as similar to traditional media – after all, you probably wouldn’t allow just anyone to do a TV interview on behalf of the company, so why would you allow anyone to tweet for the company? And by “approved to speak,” you probably mean in any instance – even the most basic of customer service issues may need to go through your approved social media team.
  2. Make it clear who is authorized to create social media accounts for the company. Although you have likely already established your Facebook page and other social presences, someone in your organization might have a notion down the road that their branch or product line needs a Twitter account of its own. In order to keep things coordinated, perhaps state that all new social presences require approval and specify where that approval must come from.
  3. Set some boundaries for personal content. You probably don’t care whether your staff tweets about their kids or their knitting, so help them to see where the line is between work content and personal content. Some policies suggest that as long as employees are not talking about company-related topics, everything else is fair game.
  4. However, realize that staff do want to talk about their work – after all, they spend a lot of time thinking about work topics and it occupies a large part of their day. But you don’t want your employees to be seen as “astroturfing” – pumping up the reputation of your brand without full transparency into their relationship with the company. So give them some guidelines on how to incorporate industry or company information into their own conversations without running afoul of the policy. This could mean that they have to state their company affiliation in their social profile (but that their opinions are their own), or that they should indicate (employer) in their tweets or personal blog posts.
  5. Do you want your staff to amplify your social messaging – retweeting your content or posting your blog posts to Facebook when it’s appropriate for their audiences? if so, clarify this point and help your team to do so. But be wary of requiring this of staff; it’s really not appropriate to ask people to use their personal profiles for business, and it could reflect badly on your company if it looks like you’re making your staff spam their family and friends with your corporate messaging.
  6. Some content may be totally off-limits for any employee posting anywhere. This probably includes confidential information, posting anything negative about a competitor, or posting anything that could infringe on intellectual property laws, at minimum.  While this may all seem obvious, put it in the policy anyway.
  7. Give employees an outlet for passing along information they see in social media that they feel should be responded to. At the very least, providing an email address to the PR or customer service department within the policy will be a valve release for employees which may prevent them from trying to respond on their own.
  8. Remind everyone about the importance of professionalism and respect for others. This seems to go without saying, but why not put it in writing, just in case? Those videos of the company holiday party with the boss in the lampshade probably won’t be good for your corporate image.

A good  social media policy does not constrain your employees’ personal self-expression, but makes it obvious for them where to draw the line. Review some examples of corporate social media policies, work with HR or legal as necessary, and codify something that relieves the stress of “should I or shouldn’t I” for your staff, while providing you peace of mind.

Have other thoughts about what a social media policy should include? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Editor’s Note: You can also get a head start on your social media policy writing by purchasing Toolkit Cafe’s Social Media Policy Tool Kit (affiliate link). Use the code “SMEVIP” for  a discount.

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About Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at CrackerjackMarketing.com, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://trafficcoleman.com/blog/official-black-seo-guy/ Black Seo Guy

    Make the company stand out in a crowd and people will notice..social media is the way to go..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • http://www.miamiwebdesignpro.com miami web design

    i agree with the black seo guy lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/SMAgency?ref=ts Lasudderth

    I think building a social media policy has a lot to do with whether or not your employees are happy. It seems your policy could be a lot less restricting when you feel they are less likely to say negative things about the company. In big corporations, they should probably be more strict, but in small businesses employees (where you know if your employees are happy or not) can be a great asset to social media efforts. It is a fact that people are more willing to buy when the salesman is/acts happy while doing their job, rather than one who hates being there and the customer knows it. Maybe applying this online can have some impact. Having happy employees can go a long way for a business.

  • http://www.automatedsocialnetworking.com Treb

    Great post Stephanie… I totally agree with your post… Hope to read more good and interesting post from you…

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  • heatherwhaling

    Just this week, I had a client ask about social media policies. I shared a bunch of resources with them — and now I'm going to pass this one on as well. Very helpful (and timely!) post, Stephanie. :)

    Heather
    @prTini

  • Lawrence Bergfeld

    I would avoid using Facebook at work because you get used to it. And once you get caught you are out. There is no second chance.

    Lawrence Bergfeld

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      It depends on what you're using it for and your company's policy. Many

      companies are realizing Facebook and other social networks are great

      platforms to connect with customers. Using them at work then becomes a

      requisite activity.

  • http://www.rtraction.com David Billson

    We have a free social media policy tool that's available here: http://socialmedia.policytool….

  • http://twitter.com/lindaforrest Linda Forrest

    Great guidance on creating an effective, not overly complex social media policy. We wrote about this issue on our blog today, in response to the Chrysler PR disaster of last week: http://bit.ly/g17B4G

  • Bellacook

    Hi Chris,
    As usual your blogs are right on time. I have come across that concern many times, and it is something companies should be concerned about. I like the way you explained it, it's really logical, but because social media itself is still so up-in-the-air, even the most logical seems confusing. Thanks again for a very timely blog.

  • Bellacook

    Sorry Stephanie, not sure why I thought Chris Brogan wrote this article :0 That's actually a compliment to you, I think Chris writes great blogs, so for me to get the two confused, it means in my opinion you too are a great blogger :-)

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  • Ssekitto Francis

    Thanks. I am actually using this for my open book Exam 

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    Wt3z Recently i used to be low on $$ and debits were eating me from all angles. that was Right Until I learned to make money on the Internet! I landed on surveymoneymaker d-o-t net, and started doing surveys for cash, and really, i have been much more able to pay my bills!! I’m very happy I did this!!! – Cjf

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    Wt3z Recently i used to be low on $$ and debits were eating me from all angles. that was Right Until I learned to make money on the Internet! I landed on surveymoneymaker d-o-t net, and started doing surveys for cash, and really, i have been much more able to pay my bills!! I’m very happy I did this!!! – Cjf

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  • Mike Ross

    Thanks. I heard that Harris Kuhn is one of the top law firms around here. I think I need to go in and talk with someone. Does anyone have any advice about that?

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  • alena mauer

    I think if companies locked social media down it would be acceptable. If people need to get on social media they can use their own devices for sure. Allowing them to use company computers will only increase the want to get on while on work time. I wouldn’t mind this at all.

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  • Jim Peters

    I can’t believe how big social media is now. Everywhere you look someone is on facebook. I wonder how it will be in a few years. http://www.glfamilylaw.com

  • John Howard

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  • Eliza Lawrence

    Social media use really has increased within the last couple of years. It is amazing how much the use of facebook has increased. Facebook was such a brightsome idea.

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  • Jason Strong

    We live in a very technological world where everyone is connected to social media in some way. It’s important to have polices like this that will protect your personal information from getting into the wrong hands. I would like to see more measures taken from social media websites to ensure our protection.

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  • Thiago

    These are great points. It’s so important to establish appropriate handling of social media. A lot of people don’t know how to administer that kind of thing. Having a policy in place mitigates that concern. Thiago | http://www.sarkisianlaw.com

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