A few weeks ago, I wrote that your organization should have a social media policy, and one of the things I heard among all the great comments was: “Okay, but what should it say?”
There are generally two approaches to social media policy making. Some organizations handle social media in an evolutionary way. Chad Houghton, the director of e-media and business development at the Society for Human Resource Management, told me that he thinks, “it might be beneficial not to create some arbitrary rules without first seeing where the opportunities and risks really are.”
Other organizations, meanwhile, feel more comfortable establishing a clear policy from the outset. IBM, for example, has published their social media guidelines publicly for anyone to read. It’s a great policy, though rather long.
Whether you’re writing your social media policy from the get-go, or letting it develop organically in reaction to situations as they arise, here are 10 things you should definitely consider. These 10 tips will help you steer clear of pitfalls and allow you to focus on what’s important: engaging the customer.
1. Introduce the purpose of social media
All policies need to address what’s in it for the reader/user — what should the reader take away after reading the policy? One of the common themes I kept coming across in introductions to social media policies is the idea that the policy should focus on the things that employees can rather than what they can’t do. For those of us who have experience writing policies, this is a real paradigm shift.
But that’s the spirit of social media — it’s all about leveraging the positive. And that needs to be evident in the policy. Houghton agrees, “The old way of doing things is to create an unnecessarily restrictive model of engagement that prevents companies from leveraging new media appropriately.”
2. Be responsible for what you write
Oren Michels, CEO of Mashery, explains that “people tend to interpret having the ‘right’ to express themselves online as implying a lack of consequences when they say stupid things.” That’s not the case. Your organization and its representatives need to take responsibility for what they write, and exercise good judgment and common sense.
“Dooced” is an Internet expression that means to lose one’s job because of things one says on one’s website or blog. No one wants that to happen, of course, so using common sense and being responsible is important.
3. Be authentic
Include your name and, when appropriate, your company name and your title. Consumers buy from people that they know and trust, so let people know who you are.
4. Consider your audience
When you’re out in the blogosphere or Twitterverse or other social media channels, remember that your readers include current clients, potential clients, as well as current/past/future employees. Consider that before you publish and make sure you aren’t alienating any of those groups.
5. Exercise good judgment
Refrain from comments that can be interpreted as slurs, demeaning, inflammatory, etc. The Internet is full of varied opinions, and it’s okay to share yours, but you never, never, never want to be branded a racist or narrow-minded or an unstoppable hot-head.
Your employees should understand that companies can and will monitor employee use of social media and social networking web sites, even if they are engaging in social networking or social media use away from the office. Eric B. Meyer, an associate at the labor and employment group of Dilworth Paxson LLP, reminds us that, “employees should always think twice before hitting ’send‘; consider what could happen if your organization sees what the employee publishes on the Internet and how that may reflect not just on the employee, but also the company.”
Bottom line: good judgment is paramount regardless of whether an employee’s online comments relate directly to their job.
6. Understand the concept of community
The essence of community is the idea that it exists so that you can support others and they, in turn, can support you. You need to learn how to balance personal and professional information, and the important role that transparency plays in building a community. Your community shouldn’t be an environment where competition is encouraged or emphasized, but rather a platform where your customers or users feel comfortable sharing, connecting, and receiving help.
7. Respect copyrights and fair use
This should be a no-brainer, but just in case: always give people proper credit for their work, and make sure you have the right to use something with attribution before you publish.
8. Remember to protect confidential & proprietary info
Being transparent doesn’t mean giving out the Colonel’s special 11 herbs and spices used in KFC chicken or the recipe for McDonald’s Big Mac special sauce.
Those examples seem pretty self-explanatory, but Meyer, points out that, “employers may fail to make employees aware of any obligation they may have to protect confidential or proprietary information.” Transparency doesn’t give employees free rein to share just anything. Meyer says that every state has a law governing trade secrets.
Therefore, employees who share confidential or proprietary information do so at the risk of losing their job and possibly even ending up a defendant in a civil lawsuit. At the very least, companies will seriously question the judgment of an employee who shares confidential or proprietary information via social media. It’s a good idea to make sure all of this is clearly laid out in your social media policy.
9. Bring value
Social media will more likely pay dividends for you if you add value to your followers, readers, fan, and users. Michels, for example, said he’s used blog posts as a “means to frame the conversation around specific issues and make sure that our position is heard and commented on,” or as a way to build buzz for upcoming products or services.
Joe Homs, the CEO of Headset Bros., shared with me two instances where social media has provided an opportunity to bring customer value. Once, on Twitter (), they ran across a person who was looking for a recommendation for a product they sell. A simple message to her that was quick and relevant allowed them to make a fast sale.
Another time, on Facebook (), a customer complaint about not receiving an order led to the realization that their shipping company had lost the package. Sending the customer a new package overnight fixed the problem and they eventually worked out the problem with the shipping company as well.
Still confused about the different ways you can provide value using social media? Check out the video from Barry Judge, the Chief Marketing Officer at Best Buy, embedded below.
(Thanks to Christine Tierney for the heads up on this great video.)
10. Productivity matters
I asked Homs if he was concerned that his employees would lose focus if they were spending too much time on social media sites. His comment: there’s not much to balance. He told me, “talking to people (over social media or otherwise) is our ‘real’ job.” Headset Bros estimates that 90% of their business is communication with customers (online and by phone). To help with the rest, they’ve automated most of their other business functions.
But, your social media usage won’t get you very far if you don’t execute on the core competencies of your business. Remember that in order for your social media endeavors to be successful, you need to find the right balance between social media and other work.
Sample social media policy
The Headset Bros. were kind enough to let us republish their social media policy. It’s short, but that’s by design, because CEO Joe Homs told me, “we want people to read it.”