11 Must-Haves For Your Social Media Policy

Social media policies create a dilemma for HR. Should it be part of the Employee Handbook or created as a standalone document?

As someone who writes social media policies for a living, I’m inclined to recommend the latter. Cross-reference it from the Employee Handbook, so it’s easier to manage as a separate document.

Of course, the next question is, “what do I need to include in the social media policy? How many pages is enough?”

Two Types of Social Media Policies

Let’s step back a moment. Companies tend to write two types of social media policies:

  • Guidelines which provide high level direction but don’t really provide any granular, actionable advice and
  • Policy documents that provide detailed instructions so employees know what to do on specific social media sites, for example, how to respond to negative comment or baiting.

My suggestion is that if you’re going to make the effort (and invest time/money), then create a document that’s of practical use to your employees.

One page social media policies are fine but… don’t add anything you won’t find in the Employee Handbook.

Social Media Policy: 11 Writing Tips

With this in mind, here are eleven ways to get started with your next social media policy.

1. Identify the Purpose

The purpose of social media policies is to…. help employees do a better job.

You’ll get more buy-in to your policy documents if you show employees how they’ll BENEFIT by using the documents, rather than feeling they have to use them.

The best way to do this is to provide:

  • Examples
  • Case studies and
  • Sample text

…they can use when interacting with customers.

2. Take Responsibility

Remind employees that what they say online impacts their career. Using good judgement and responding correctly will be noted during annual assessments.

Likewise, employees that engage in flame wars (even outside of office hours) are creating a dilemma for their managers.

Remind your staff that they’re speaking for the company when interacting online. They need to take responsibility for this and can’t write off a negative exchange with a customer as ‘just having a bad day’.

3. Transparency

No one likes to buys from a stranger. When responding to others online, make sure to use your:

  • Name
  • Title
  • Company

This increases trust as customers know who they’re dealing with. Also, it reminds employees that they’re speaking on behalf of their employer.

However, be careful about sharing email addresses and other personal information.

4. Think Global

Even if your company is based in Texas, your clients may be in Asia. And your readers may be in the UK. Why is this important?

Two reasons:

Remember to think globally. Unless your business is 100% local, you can assume that others are reading your blogs, watching your tweets and so on.
Cultural differences. What may be humorous to you, may offend someone else deeply.

Jokes are a minefield in that they can be misunderstood so easily. While you don’t want to stifle the life out of your employees, remind them to use caution.

5. Be Patient

It’s easy to snap when you’re provoked.

Unfortunately, the consequences when you do this online can be very damaging. You leave a digital paper trail behind that doesn’t reflect well on the company.

Give your employees examples and tactics to handle:

  • Slurs
  • Racism
  • Innuendo

And other type of comments designed to offend and provoke a reaction.

Another issue is that employees need to be careful when interacting outside of office hours.

If a company discovers that an employee has offended others or ‘crossed the line’, the employee needs to be aware that this may lead to a discipline or possibly termination of employment.

6. Community

The foundation of social networks is community. What this means for you as a business is to find way to:

  • Increase engagement
  • Encourage dialogue
  • Develop trust

How do you do this?

In the social media policy, give examples of how you can bring people into the conversation. Show your staff how they can reach out to quieter members of the community and bring them into the conversation.

Examples of how to increase community engagement should be included in the social media policy document. This type of practical information will help employees see the value of the document and refer to it more frequently.

7. Copyright

Many firms get into hot water when it emerges that employees copy and paste someone else’s material without giving them credit.

The relaxed nature of the internet means it’s very easy to share information. But, if it’s not yours, then you need permission to use it or credit the source.

A practical way to address this in your social media policy is to share examples and best practices. Show your team how to credit the copyright owner, how much they can paste into an article without being accused of plagiarism and other sensitive issues.

8. Privacy

While it’s nice to share things online, you don’t have to share everything. Somethings need to be kept private. For some employees knowing when they’ve crossed the line can be difficult. So, you need to provide guidelines:

  • Don’t share confidential information
  • Don’t discuss colleagues personal lives
  • Don’t discuss internal projects or product developments

Maybe you think this is obvious but a quick scan of Facebook pages tells a different story. It’s human nature to share things – and be the first! – to get attention.

Have you seen Sara’s new boyfriend? OMG!
Guess how much we get paid? Sucks 🙁
You won’t believe this new product we’re building!

Transparency doesn’t mean employees can share everything. Rather, it means that they behave in a professional and dignified way. Find ways to weave this into your social media policy and give actionable examples.

9. Add value

One of the advantages of social media is that it brings you closer to your customer. But this is a double-edged sword.

If your customers are happy with your service, they may tweet it and share it with their friends. Nice to get free publicity.

However, if a package gets delayed, lost, or broken, and they contact you… then you need to respond super fast.

Failure to do so may result is a barrage of negative tweets slamming your slow response. Once this starts, and it picks up momentum, it can be hard to fight back.

Give your employee case studies that show how to respond to negative social media events. This gives them a framework to deal with criticism online and protect your brand’s integrity.

10. Increase (not reduce) Productivity

This brings us to productivity. Does social media help employees do their job better or is it a distraction?

There’s a few ways of looking at this:

  • Do you need to engage with your customers via social media?
  • What percentage of your potential customers are on social media?
  • What are your competitors doing with social media?

For example, if you work in the legal industry, you may not need to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to find leads. But, if you’ve started a project to increase your firm’s visibility and want to use social media to achieve this, then you need to put policies in place.

Likewise, if your business is ‘customer-facing’, then you need to consider a policy.

After you create it, hold a workshop and give your employees examples of where and how they can use social media to respond faster, find information quicker, and resolve issues.

11. Monitor Results

In an ideal world, you’d create the social media policy, get it signed, and then move onto the next project.

In the real world, we need to create checkpoints to measure the effectiveness of policy documents.

  • Are employees using the policies correctly?
  • What parts of the policy creates the most friction?
  • What social media site causes the most issues?
  • What do customers think of our policy?
  • Where do you need to update it?

Most clients that I work with find that writing the policy is difficult, but not impossible with a little guidance.

However, implementing and monitoring the polices is more difficult as you need to get buy in and track effectiveness.

Conclusion

When creating your social media policy keep employees and customers in mind.

It’s there to help employees enjoy social media, feel more comfortable, and provide a better service. And it’s there to help you engage with customers, interact on a more meaningful level and demonstrate transparency.

What else would you add? What’s the biggest problem with social media policies? Writing, implementing or monitoring?

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