One rogue social media comment can have dire consequences for your business or career.
As we discussed in a previous blog (which you can read here) even comments made in the distant past, can return to haunt high profile employees.
These incidents occur with alarming regularity. Even as I was writing this blog the news broke that an adviser to the Labour party had been forced to step down due to inappropriate comments made on social media.
While you cannot control the past social media behaviour of your employees and colleagues, a social media policy will reduce the chances of your company being brought into disrepute in the future.
What is a social media policy?
Your employees are your brand’s most effective ambassadors, helping to spread your marketing messages and enhance your profile. So you want them on social media, tweeting about you and sharing your Facebook updates.
Just displaying the fact that they work for you on their social media profile helps publicise your business.
But one inappropriate comment can cause you a great deal of damage – regardless of their seniority within the organisation.
This could be sharing an opinion from a company account that doesn’t quite fit in with your business’s ethos or highly controversial comments from a personal account that brings your organisation into disrepute – even if it’s behaviour that’s not directly related to your company.
A social media policy provides guidance on how an organisation and its employees behave online, to encourage promotion of the business while safeguarding its reputation.
Your social media policy should be broken into two sections –
• Social media policy for the company’s official accounts
• Social media policy for employees.
Social media policy for the company’s official accounts
One of the main purposes of social media is to give your organisation ‘personality’ – so your policy needs to have a degree of flexibility, allowing staff manning the social media accounts to show their human side, while maintaining standards.
Rather than going into strict detail your policy should focus on the wider picture:
• Who does what (roles and responsibilities)
• A general overview of what they can/can’t say (legal compliance and branding standards/tone of voice)
• Why the organisation’s using social media at all (purpose and values).
But you’re not reinventing the wheel.
Your social media policy effectively reflects your existing brand values and the way you’d communicate with clients and colleagues, whether that’s in traditional marketing materials, over the phone or at networking events.
For example – a high end financial adviser is unlikely to take a “lads banter” approach to social media.
It’s more likely to take an authoritative and largely uncontroversial approach (which can still be engaging and innovative) in its online communications.
And as a highly regulated industry, financial services firms will be more constrained than others in the language it can use on social media.
However, a PR firm which represents graffiti artists would have a very different approach to what it discusses online and would adopt the language of its target audience.
So in a nutshell, you social media policy will embrace the overall ethos and values of your organisation.
Social media policy for employees
As we mentioned in a previous post, barely a week passes where someone, somewhere in the world, finds themselves in hot water over comments they made on social media.
By including a social media policy as part of the employees code of conduct, employers protect themselves against what can be a legal grey area.
This is particularly important for staff who use a personal account for work related social media activities, as shown in this tribunal between the retailer Game and an employee.
Cases are a lot more clear cut where staff have taken to social media to air their grievances about their employer, as demonstrated in this article from Personnel Today.
However a social media policy certainly shouldn’t be put in place to “catch staff out.” Often the cases described above are as a result of ingnorance rather than malice.
So as well as having a clear social media policy in place it’s good practice for employers to provide training on both work-related social media and how they use it in their personal life.
This can even include wider online use, such as teaching employees to protect themselves from cyber-crime.
By providing this type of training it helps tackle any social media problems at the root but also helps staff feel valued and trusted.
Implementing your social media policy
As mentioned above your social media policy should be a usable document that staff can easily understand and refer to, so shouldn’t go into microscopic detail.
And as social media is such a fast moving area it should be updated on a regular basis – at the very least once a year and certainly if there’s a shift in your overall social online startegy. You’ll never be short of recent case studies to include!
If you would like guidance on implementing a social media strategy or staff training, then please get in touch.
And for examples of social media policies from a range of industries, take a look at this link here.