When you hear the word “policy” your eyes probably glaze over. You assume this is a worry for large organizations, not smaller outfits. But the reality is, every company with employees and an online presence needs to have a social media policy. Yes, even if you only have a few people on staff. Yes, even if you rarely use social media to promote your business. So let’s talk about what exactly a social media policy is, why you need one, and how to put one together.
What is a company social media policy?
First up: what the heck is this? It’s exactly what it sounds like – a document with guidelines about social media usage at your company. Social media policies vary wildly to fit the needs of an organization, but the best ones all include a few essential elements.
Best practices for your official brand channels.
Meaning the rules surrounding your official company social media accounts. There are dozens of questions that can come up when it comes to official social pages. All of them can have a major impact on your brand and communications. For example:
- What hashtags do you use?
- What content belongs on which platform?
- Who has access?
- What’s the approval process before something gets posted?
- What’s the process for handing over access when an employee leaves on good terms?
- What do you do when an employee who had access leaves on bad terms?
While your policy doesn’t need to cover every possible scenario, questions like these can spiral quickly if you don’t have some sort of plan in place ahead of time.
Guidelines for how employees can use social professionally and privately.
This one is the trickiest, but also the most important. A social media policy needs to clarify how employees can and cannot interact with other staff members and clients on social when serving as a representative of the company. This is especially important on LinkedIn, where all conduct is viewed through the lens of being a professional. Keep in mind, however, that these issues can come up on any platform.
Social media policies should also set guidelines for what happens if employees’ personal content becomes problematic for the company. Policing personal accounts can get sticky. But if your employees have their personal accounts set to be publicly viewable, a connection to your organization can be problematic if they are posting offensive or inappropriate content..
Flexibility to grow and change as needed.
Like everything else online, social media changes fast. Your social media policy needs to be set up to reflect that. Don’t get bogged down in specifics that only apply to one channel. Instead, set up common-sense rules that can be applied across social media as a whole.
Why do you need a social media policy?
If you’re thinking “this sounds like a lot of work, do I even need this?” The answer is a resounding yes. No one thinks they’ll have an issue until it’s too late. A social media policy does a lot of important things, like:
- Ensuring brand consistency on social media, regardless of the platform or individual post author.
- Preventing security breaches internally and externally through clear rules about who has access.
- Preventing PR crises arising from internal and external social media misuse or mistakes.
- Having a plan in place to handle a PR problem if and when one arises online (see our piece on crisis communications for more on this one!)
- Clarifying employees’ social media roles and responsibilities to avoid any confusion.
- Empowering employees to have a sense of ownership and amplify the brand online.
What should a good social media policy do?
When you set up your social media policy, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by trying to account for every possible scenario. You’ll never be able to predict everything that could happen. But these key pieces can help you be prepared for the most important things.
- Define roles and responsibilities – that way, you know exactly who has access to what accounts, who’s responsible for approval before anything posts, etc.
- Create security protocols and crisis plans – know what needs to happen when team members leave and new people are hired. Have plans in place for if an account needs to be locked down quickly.
- Cover potential compliance issues (privacy, copyright, confidentiality) – you may want to talk about this one with a lawyer. Make sure that you’re handling any data safely, abiding by online copyright regulations, and any other laws that are applicable to your business, industry, region, etc.
- Set guidelines for employee social media usage – cover important questions like: what are the consequences of problematic content shared on employee personal accounts? How can employees appropriately interact with company content on social media if they want to?
You can find a more in-depth template as well as a variety of examples of social media policies here if you’re looking for more information.
So there you have it! Yes, setting up a social media policy takes some work up front. But it takes way less time than you’d spend addressing all of these issues when they come up unexpectedly. And it’s an important way to protect your brand, your business, and your employees online that makes it well worth the time invested.