Thursday, 9th February, 2012

Do you have a social media policy?

It is becoming increasingly common for a business to have a social media presence. 

Social media sites are fast becoming major communications platforms for many businesses.  Social media sites offer businesses a whole new way to interact with customers, as well as get a fresh and constant view of your marketplace.

Once embraced by a business, social media sites offer increased collaboration and brand awareness as well as driven down marketing and promotion costs. 

At the heart of any social media communication is your business' brand.  It needs to be safeguarded in cyberspace just as you would protect it in the physical world.  The scope to talk socially about your business is huge and increasing daily through sites including wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. 

There are still however many businesses wary about engaging socially and encouraging its use.  But you need to be wary.  The key to striking the balance between blocking social networking and encouraging its use by is a strong, clear policy.

Setting a few guidelines about how you wish your brand to be portrayed on social media sites will help encourage employees to take part in social networking.  You can encourage its use by talking to employees about your expectations regarding use and offer training and education so that the sites are used in a  safe and fitting way that aligns with your business and brand values.

Most business have guidelines about company car or mobile phone usage.  A social media policy is no different!
 
A social media policy should outline what can and can't be done on a social media site as well as promote, encourage and motivate employees to use social media positively to talk about your business.

Having a policy is not about control - it is about crisis management.  As a business owner you want to mitigate risk for your business and encourage engagement with your business by your employees and customers.

If you need reasons to consider writing a social media policy, here are three:

1. Setting standards for communication
To avoid misuse of your brand, clearly outline how you expect your brand to be used in a social media forum.  Make resources available so your brand in the correct format, size and colour is able to be accessed and used by all employees.

2. Educate, educate, educate
Clearly outline how you wish your business to be described and referred to. Are there terms you never want associated with your business?  Are there particular industry or work related terms you want associated with your business?  Are there any topics you do not want employees to comment on?  Make sure these are all clearly outlined so employees don't need to guess.

The dynamic nature of social media means that any policy must be a living document.  It needs to be regularly reviewed and updated as appropriate - not stuck in a folder somewhere, not to be looked at again until there is a problem.

Regular training about the use of social media sites and having an accessible living social media policy will keep your expectations top of mind for your employees.

3.Expectations for behaviour
If employees know the rules and what is expected from them, they are less likely to make mistakes.  State clearly what standards of performance you expect.  A little personal responsibility and some common sense go a long way as do a few rules.

What should be included in a social media policy?

There are no hard and fast rules about the content of a policy.  Often this will be driven by the nature of your business, your customer base and product offering.

Typically though a social media policy will provide guidance on the following:

  • the purpose of using social media
  • the release of confidential information about your business and customers
  • protecting the privacy of your business and employees
  • being honest and authentic in your communications
  • respecting the intellectual property rights of others
  • avoiding racist, offensive, defamatory, insulting and obscene comments
  • referring  to customers, partners, suppliers without approval
  • commenting on controversial issues
  • who to contact within your business if a mistake is made
  • the use of disclaimers (if appropriate)
  • peer review of communications (if appropriate)
  • what professional standards need to be maintained
  • understanding the meaning of 'community'.

Think carefully about your business and your needs before putting pen to paper!

Social media is here to stay 

Social media is the new 'black' of communications.  Already its use is huge and it is expected to grow significantly.  Today we commonly use and see reference to Facebook, LinkedIn, etc - but what is coming?  Next year there could be new sites to explore!

Businesses who get the most out of social media know how they want to project their brand or image on-line and then tailor their messages to suit. They plan their messages to ensure they are effective and they train their staff to help them balance their social media responsibilities effectively with their other day-to-day tasks.
Make communicating socially work for your business and use it to your advantage to engage meaningfully with your customers - you could well be surprised by the results.

An edited version of this article was published in NZRetail magazine issue 703