Social Media Policies: Guidelines or Rules?

17 Sep

Here’s an increasingly common question from clients:

I want to implement social media, but I’m afraid that my staff will take advantage of the freedom. What social media policies can we institute to shape use by our employees?

It’s a good question. Businesses are catching on to the practical necessity of social media for customer interaction and reputation-building. But it’s unwise to jump into the fray before preparing in advance.

Having a clear communications plan in place is the first step. Warning: If your plan involves only social media, do NOT activate. Social media is only one channel for communication. Comparisons with walkie talkies and telephones are apt. Just knowing how to use a walkie talkie or telephone doesn’t mean that you know how to WISELY communicate with it. It all depends on what you say, not whether you know how to pick it up and talk through it. Take Gap’s new Born to Fit campaign. They are leveraging social media—heavily—but only as one among many tactics within the media mix, that includes billboards and other examples of “old-school” ads. No television, though. Interesting.

Now back to the policies. The situation reminds me of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. Elizabeth Swann is trying to outsmart the Captain, and he reminds her of the flexibility around the pirate’s code:

Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann pretending to be Elizabeth Turner): … wait, you have to take me to shore, according to the code of the Order of the Brethren …
Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa): … first, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement, so it must do nothing, and secondly you must be a pirate for the Pirate’s Code to apply and you’re not, and thirdly the code is more of what you call guidelines than actual rules, welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner …

The same will be true of social media policies. The landscape is so dynamic that you cannot account for everything that could possibly happen. And not everyone will follow them, but without them you are rudderless.

Now back to the policies. Here are some common themes drawn from various social media guidelines:

  1. Use good judgment. Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t say in person.
  2. Be yourself. Never be anonymous.
  3. Preserve confidentiality and intellectual property. Don’t disclose client or proprietary information.
  4. Own your own content. Take responsibility for what you post.
  5. Disclose your blogging to your supervisor. And put a disclaimer on your blog clarifying where you work and that the opinions and views you express are not necessarily those of your employer.
  6. Link back to your corporate culture guidelines. These should shape your social media practices.
  7. Use social media at work, because the process of communicating through social media is so often now a part of our work. But don’t let social media use keep you from getting other parts of your job done. Stay productive.
  8. Follow the ethics code of your given profession. Respect copyright and fair use. Do not risk defamation.
  9. Be a courteous social media community member. Pay heed to mutuality, authenticity and timeliness. These concepts have special meaning in the social mediasphere.
  10. Clarify the place of social media within your overall business goals and communication plan. It should not stand alone.

Now go forth and post!

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