Social media sites are fast becoming major communications platforms for many businesses, offering a whole new way to interact with customers, and 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 drive down marketing and promotion costs.
At the heart of any social media communication is your 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. You need to be aware of what is being said about you.
Many businesses are still wary about engaging socially and encouraging its use. The key to striking the balance between blocking social networking and encouraging its use 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 and educate them about doing so in a safe, fitting way.
A social media policy is no different to having a manual outlining the acceptable use of a business' company car or telephone.
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 mitigating risk for your business and encouraging 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 and business colour schemes, 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 and its 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. What terms would you want used? Are there terms you never want associated with your business? Are there particular industry or work related terms you want associated with your business? 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.
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.
What should be included in a social media policy?
There are no hard and fast rules about the content of a policy and often this will be driven by the nature of your business.
Typically though a social media policy will provide guidance on the following:
- the purpose of using social media
- the release 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'.
Social media is here to stay
Businesses who get the most out of social media know how they want to project their brand or image online and then tailor their messages to suit. They plan their messages to ensure they are effective and they train staff to help them balance their social media responsibilities effectively with their other day-to-day tasks.
Make it work for your business and use it to your advantage to engage meaningfully.
An edited version of this article was published in FMCG magazine, February edition