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What’s in a Social Media Policy?

Almost everything you post online is open for public viewing. What people do in their free time is of their concern, but what if they are doing it whilst representing your business? The obvious solution is to ban social media, but as it turns out, it’s also a very bad idea – what you need is a social media policy.

Almost everything you post online is open for public viewing. This should come as no surprise but you wouldn’t believe how often a lack of common sense is the culprit in social media mishaps. Yes, there are numerous examples we could provide: People posting (what many of us would call inappropriately) silly videos of themselves on YouTube or tweets that were meant to be funny but took to Mama Mia’s leading story within minutes. Then there’s the occasional picture meant for a partner that in some way managed to reach the entire Instagram public. What people do in their free time is their business, but what if they are doing it whilst representing your business? The obvious solution is to ban social media, but as it turns out, it’s also a very bad idea (unless you’re going for a reign of terror, and employees will just find a way anyway).

What you need is a social media policy.

Ah, yes, one of those policy thingies. If it’s well put together, it could save you a lot of embarrassment whilst getting your brand out of harm’s way. But this goes beyond risk management; there are clear benefits in allowing, and encouraging, your employees to update their social media accounts at work (in moderation of course). As experts on most things related to your business they are ideal brand advocates, and all come with their own networks of potential customers.  Your employees are your extra marketing team, customer service team and in house support team. Allow them the opportunity to communicate amongst themselves and with the rest of the world and they will help your business grow. They do however need guidelines.

A social media policy should do two things; provide guidelines to the employees, preventing them from causing or getting into trouble and inform them of the disciplinary actions that will be taken if they do. You could of course Google another company’s policy and use that as a template, but the document will be that much more effective if it’s customised to your particular field with your employee’s particular positions in mind. Ask yourself these three questions;

  •         What’s the worst that could happen if employees are allowed access to social media?
  •         How does my social media policy prevent this worst case scenario?
  •         How would it have employees respond to it if it happened?

Be clear and concise in your policy. “Be professional in what you say on your social media profile” is a good start, however when not put into context this alone leaves a little too much for self interpretation (note, don’t be too precise either, or you’ll risk drowning the message in definitions). It should all be based on common sense; the policy should be a supportive document, not a hindrance. It won’t do you or your company any good if it diminishes social media efficiency.

So, what can be found in a valuable social media policy?

  •         A paragraph on who the document applies to – are freelancers and employees working from home included?
  •         Guidelines on what employees shouldn’t do online (what information to disclose, what not to share, what sites not to visit etc);
  •         Guidelines on what employees CAN do (encourage creative behaviour that indirectly hints at your amazing corporate culture);
  •         Information on disciplinary measures;
  •         An educating section on online behaviour, just in case;

The positive effect your employees’ online presence can have on your business is too good to pass up. Make sure to educate employees in the potential dangers of online activity and about sharing information too generously. Present them with so called “Cosmic Law”, coined by Jay Shepherd; always assume that the one you least want to see your post will in fact see it. With this in mind let your people get out there and endorse your brand to help it grow.

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Image courtesy: thesocialworkplace.com, socialnewsdaily.com

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