In this post we will explain what a social media policy is and why you need one. We will conclude the article with a social media policy template, and examples of social media policies.
Why Your Company Needs a Social Media Policy
At one of my jobs, a patron of ours was very active on Facebook, and friend requested vendor employees, company liaisons, and customers. Election season came, and everyone had a stance on their candidate choice. She made the bold decision to post “Anyone who is voting for [Presidential Candidate] can unfriend me, and never speak to me again”. Well, of course, her customers saw it, her bosses saw it, and she ended up losing her job. This declaration in front of the company’s audience hurt their reputation and relationships. If the company had a social media policy in place, this scenario could have been potentially avoided.
What is a Social Media Policy?
A social media policy is an agreement between an employee and an employer that outlines how an employee is expected to conduct themselves on social media, and how they should represent the company. Having employees represent your brand online can be a great opportunity for the company, but they need to know how you would like your messages shared. It is important to have a social media policy in place BEFORE a public relations crisis strikes, so the situation can possibly be prevented, and if it does occur, the employee will understand the consequences. We’ll explain the benefits of having a social media policy in place, provide a temple on writing a social media policy, and provide examples of policies from other companies.
Benefits of Having a Social Media Policy:
- Explicitly states expectations of the employee while interacting online
- Outlines disciplinary actions for violating the policy
- Protects the reputation of the brand and relationships with customers, and prevents negative PR
- Can be used to empower employees to advocate on the company’s behalf and share the company message. Having a social media presence can help humanize your brand which can build trust with your audience.
- Employee advocacy generates authentic content which helps your marketing strategy, and is a great free promotional tool for the company.
- Addresses productivity, privacy, and legal matters
So now that you understand the value of having such policy, where do you get started? Below is a template for your policy with ideas of what you may want to include.
Template for social media policy:
- Introduction: In this section you will want to declare the purpose of the policy, the consequences of violating the policy, and to whom the policy applies.
- State purpose of policy. After an introductory phrase, our policy is straight to the point and says “… these guidelines are to help you do the right thing when connecting on social media. They are important to maintaining the integrity and image of the business, and will help protect you as well”. Don’t forget to add that the policy is not just about protecting the company, but protecting the employee as well.
- Encourage employee advocacy. Employees contributing to your company’s social media can absolutely be a positive thing, and you don’t want to discourage them from posting about the company. You just want to make sure they’re posting the right things about the company.
- Clearly state the consequences for violating the policy. Will you take legal action if it is violated?
- Define the position of the employees to whom the policy applies. The policy might apply to all employees or a specific job position. If you are covering multiple job roles in your policy, you may want to create individual policies for each position, or clearly define the differentiating roles in the conditions section of your policy. For example, your expectations may be differ between a sales representative and a social media manager.
- Clarify if the policy applies to personal accounts and/or corporate accounts.
- Remind your employees that even if their accounts are private, their information can still be made public by others. Even if they delete a post almost immediately, they can not guarantee that a screenshot hasn’t been taken. You may also want to encourage employees to interact with professional acquaintances on sites like LinkedIn, and keep other accounts separate.
- Conditions: Here are some conditions you may want to consider for the policy. Not all of these may apply to your business, and you might need to add some conditions that are specific to your industry.
- Do not disclose sensitive or confidential information.
- Employees should identify themselves as employees when posting about the company, and should also state when they are expressing an opinion.
- Copyright and infringement laws must be followed when posting on behalf of the company. Make sure your employees understand the copyright laws of each social media platform.
- Do not post anything involving illegal or illicit activities. For our clients that own restaurants, the policies we write for their employees remind them to follow state and local liquor laws in their posts. For example, in our state, if you are off duty at work, you can not consume alcohol while in uniform. A picture of an employee engaging in this activity could be harmful to the business’ image, and potentially result in legal repercussions.
- Do not discuss sensitive or controversial topics like politics or religion while representing the company.
- Hate speech will not be tolerated.
- Do not disparage the company.
- Social media usage should not interfere with work.
- Use a company hashtag when advocating for the company. For example, Zappos suggests their employees to use the hashtag “#CompanyCulture” when posting about the company, and Reeboks uses “#FitAssCompany”.
- Provide instructions on how to handle conflicts or complaints from customers. Our policy clearly states that employees are not to respond to media inquiries or customer complaints without prior authorization. When they encounter these situations, they are directed to notify their manager immediately.
- Conclusion: Keep this short and sweet, but reiterate the most important aspects of the contract.
- Briefly summarize the key points that the policy is to clarify your expectations for online interactions, and that you encourage employees to participate in sharing their passion for their job with your audience.
- State who they should approach with any questions or concerns they have with the agreement.
- Include lines for the employee to sign the policy, clearly write their name, and also date the policy.
Examples of Social Media Policies
Best Buy: We like the bulleted format on this policy, and how straight-forward it is.
Associated Press: While this policy is specific to journalism, we appreciate how it directly discusses friending/following individuals.
Starbucks : Starbucks does a great job of balancing directness without being uptight.
Having a social media policy is vital to have in place to prevent undesirable content from being posted on social media, but you don’t have to present it as an authoritarian action. Remind employees that the policy is to protect them, to remove any ambiguity on what should be posted, and to also invite them to share their passion for your brand and company culture.
What are some industry specific conditions you have in your social media policy or would write into your future policy?
This article was written by Sara Corbin, Owner of Good Karma Marketing. Sara enjoys expanding her knowledge on CSS and HTML to overcome the downfalls of CMSs that limit intuitive customization in their UIs. She has recently discovered a new exciting talent of creating her own animal jokes in record time. Just ask her what a horse’s favorite wine is…
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