Does Your Organization Really Need a Social Media Policy?

Posted: September 13, 2011

Topics: Digital Marketing

Updated: Sept. 13, 2011, 2:22 p.m.

A client recently posed a question that got us thinking – do we really need a social media policy, can’t we just block these websites? The answer is ‘yes you do’ and ‘no you can’t.’

In a recent blog posted by Rebecca Devine, principal, Maven Communications, Devine mentions that employee driven social media snafus can swiftly harm a company’s reputation, as was the case with brands like Chrysler and Kenneth Cole – exactly what our client was afraid of. To help mitigate some of these land mines, it’s important to implement a corporate social media policy. Devine notes that in its most basic form, a corporate social media policy is a set of guidelines that employees can reference when navigating unfamiliar scenarios online. To be effective, she recommends a carrot vs. stick approach — rather than reinforce what employees can't do, the policy should offer guidelines for what they can do and outline best practices for how to do it. She also notes that the goal is not to hobble employees, but educate and empower them to participate with guidelines and proper training.

To help navigate this process, Devine has mapped out a few musts for your company to consider including in its corporate social media policy.

Transparency is Key: When participating in any online forum, always disclose your identity and, when appropriate, company affiliation. Never post anonymously or create an alias for any reason. Be truthful and accurate in all communications. If you are not sure about the accuracy of a statement, confirm the information with the appropriate resource.

Commonsense and Good Judgment: Never post comments that will cannibalize goodwill or be construed as racist, insensitive or generally malicious. Case in point: As Japan reeled from the impact of a Tsunami and pending nuclear meltdown, former Aflac spokesman Gilbert Gottfried tweeted a series of insensitive missives poking fun at the plight of the Japanese. This is clearly not a good judgment call. He was fired the following Monday.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Common courtesy and good manners go a long way in diffusing a potential volatile situation. Be courteous and thankful for customer feedback, even if you think the person is wrong.

Relevance: Post content that adds value to your audience.

Protect Confidential and Proprietary Info: Employees have an obligation to protect the company's proprietary and confidential information. Employers should reference their state's laws governing trade secrets and include these measures in any policy they develop.

Google Doesn’t Forget: Think before you Tweet. Google archives news and information for years, so carefully think about what you post before posting.

Assign Responsibility to Someone Who Understands Your Company and Customers: Many companies hand over the keys to the kingdom to interns, since they are often younger and more familiar with using social media. Think hard before you do this; inexperienced staff members may not recognize inappropriate content before blasting it out to thousands of people. Assign ownership for your company's social media initiatives to employees who you trust to be the gatekeepers of your brand. While this role often falls to someone in the PR or marketing department, it doesn't necessarily have to. Regardless of who bears ultimate responsibility, make sure there is an approval process for reviewing posts about the company or industry before they are sent.

For more information about social media policies, or for some examples of what other organizations have implemented, visit the Social Media Governance website.