Social media has become a platform that has enabled everyone to have a voice. It’s a tool of mass communication that connects people and encourages the exchange of opinions and ideas. People, including your employees, are talking about your business on social media, so if you don’t already have a formal social media policy, you may want to create one and do it quickly.

Your employees are the unofficial face of your business online and by crafting a social media policy that empowers employees instead of restricts them, you encourage employee engagement and better incorporate social media into your overall marketing strategy.

What is a Social Media Policy?

A social media policy is a code of conduct that provides guidelines for employees that post content online as part of their job requirements or in a private setting. The aim of a social media policy is to set expectations for online employee behavior and manage how the social media activity of employees will impact the brand.

This policy should clearly outline what employees can and cannot post as well as state what will happen if the rules of the policy are not followed.

A social media policy clearly outlines the company guidelines of communicating in an online world.

Why Have a Social Media Policy?

Having a well-thought out social media policy can be beneficial to your business in a multitude of ways:

It provides your employees guidance – employees can’t read your mind. They don’t know what you consider acceptable and unacceptable to post online. Having a policy that clearly outlines this will benefit everyone in the long-run.

Protects Your Company’s Reputation

Social media blunders can have a real impact on your business. Imagine one of your employees films themselves doing something inappropriate at work and decides it would be funny to post that video on social media. once it’s on social media, it has the ability to not only hurt your reputation, but also ruin your business.

Your brand image extends far beyond the walls of your business. Each employee is an ambassador of your brand. They should be explicitly told what is kind of behavior is acceptable and what behaviors can result in disciplinary action.

Helps to Empower Employees

Empowering, rather than restricting employees can be extremely beneficial to your overall marketing strategy. Letting your employees know you trust them enough to advocate for your brand can promote employee advocacy and employee engagement both in and out of the workplace

Minimizes Confusion About Legal Issues

There are certain legal issues, such as FTC guidelines, that employees have to follow when endorsing a product. Having these clearly spelled out in your social media policy can prevent employee confusion, which might hold them back from giving a positive recommendation on social media.

Raise Brand Awareness

A social media policy should not be thought of as a list of restrictions. Only telling employees what they cannot do will not benefit your business in any way. Your policy should help employees better understand the value in social media and how it can be used to reach your business goals.

It should help employees understand how they can respond to customer comments in a way that boosts brand awareness, fosters online engagement and drives traffic back to your site.

How to Create a Social Media Policy for Employees

A social media policy will be unique to each business, but the underlying premise of the policy should be as follows:

  1. Use reason. Represent yourself online the way you would offline.
  2. Identify yourself. Clearly identify your relationship with your company.
  3. Be responsible. Make sure what you are saying does not violate any legal guidelines that prohibit revealing information. Also, make sure statements made are factually correct.
  4. Understand what you say online lives on forever. Any post on Facebook or Twitter lives on forever, even if you delete it. All it takes is one retweet or share and you are no longer in control – everything you say on social media is permanent. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say publicly to your entire office.
  5. Think before you post. Don’t send a message until you have read it back to yourself. If you don’t want your name forever associated with that post, then don’t post it.

What to Consider When Forming Your Policy

  • Determine the scope of the policy. Are you going to have multiple policies for the various departments within your business, or just one detailed policy that applies to the company as a whole?
  • Make sure you are not violating federal and state laws. Although this can take some time, it will save you from some serious headache down the road. It is important to research local and federal law to ensure you are not violating any rights of your employees. There are certain National Labor Relations Board laws that state a social media policy “cannot interfere with the rights of employees under the national Labor Relations Act, such as the right to discuss wages and working conditions with co-workers.” Talk to your legal department to ensure that you are not violating any state or federal laws and potentially infringing on the rights of your employees.
  • Ask your employees for questions they may have about social media, and answer the most common questions in your policy. You may have many employees who are willing to share information regarding your company, but may not know what or how to share it. Clarify this by crowdsourcing questions and answering the most common ones.
  • Address how will your policy apply to employees. The way your employees use social media at during work will vary. For example, your social media team will be using it constantly throughout the day, whereas other employees may not be. It is important to figure out how you want your policy to apply to certain departments. Also, employees should be encouraged to make after-hours updates on their personal networks that have company references in them, but this cannot be mandated.
  • Make sure your employees know they can share their concerns internally. This is one of the most important points to consider. As a business, you should be encouraging employees to communicate internally before voicing their concerns on a platform like social media. This almost serves as a “first line of protection.” If employees feel they can talk to you about any frustration or concern they have, they are much more likely to resolve their concern than taking to social media and publicly air the company’s “dirty laundry.”
  • Be clear about what you consider confidential information. Don’t make blanket statements like “employees are not to discuss internal matters on social media.” Be very clear about what they are restricted from sharing share. The statement “employees cannot share trade secrets, product launch dates, and internal information regarding upcoming products that has not been made been public yet” is much more effective. You can also refer employees to any non-disclosure agreement they signed upon hiring for more information about what you consider “confidential or privileged.”
  • Keep it short. Would you want to have to abide by a 10-page social media policy that is full of things you are not allowed to do? Neither would your employees! It is important to keep it short, concise and easy for employees to digest. The more comprehensive a policy is, the less likely your employees are to read it. Long social media policies can cause confusion and leave employees less inclined to engage with your company’s social media efforts.
  • Think about how you want employees to engage with others online. There are going to be people interacting with your brand and your employees online. Your social media policy should state how you want them to go about doing this. How should they react when a customer is complaining and potentially bad-mouthing you on social media? How should they handle a customer asking them a question they don’t know the answer to? Outline a macro-level view on how you want your employees to engage with others. It could be something as simple as “be polite, professional and always remember you are representing the company”.
  • Be clear about consequences of your employees’ actions. Your policy should make it very clear that employees will be held responsible for everything they publish online, regardless of when or where they publish it.

A carefully crafted social media policy can be great for a business, but the work doesn’t end after the policy is written. It is important that employees be aware of changes that are being made. Hold a meeting and discuss the social media policy with everyone. Be open to feedback that your employees have and let them know why the policy was written that way. If the information is presented in a way they understand, they’ll be much more receptive of it instead of thinking that the policy is just another set of rules being forced upon them.

After the policy has been handed out and discussed with the whole company, you should provide ongoing training to employees who may not have further questions or are confused about specific parts of the policy.

It is also important to give employees notice of any future changes made to the policy and talk through any concerns they may have.

Great Examples of What a Social Media Policy Should Look Like

There are some great resources out there that can help you craft a social media policy for your employees. Social Media Governance has established a database of over 300 corporate social media policies that are free to look at if you need inspiration or guidance.

Below are a few snippets from some of our favorite corporate policies. Feel free to pick and choose what you like from these and tailor them to fit the business objectives and culture of your business.

#1. Nordstrom

Although Nordstrom’s policy is slightly longer, they do a very good job at touching on all the key points a social media policy should have. They also introduce their policy by encouraging employees to use social networking as a way to connect with customers and others. This sets the tone for the rest of the policy, it’s a very welcoming way to introduce their policy, and it empowers employees. Some of their policy’s key points are:

  • They reference other policies already in place at Nordstrom. This significantly reduces the bulk of the policy and is a great method for keeping their guidelines relatively short and to the point.
  • Their number one goal is to offer each customer great service “but we’re certainly not perfect and we do make mistakes.” By stating they know mistakes could be made, they further empower their employees to embrace social media.
  • They state that employees should always be doing as much listening and responding as they do talking. This alone is a pillar or any social media marketing strategy!
  • They go over in detail about how employees should be endorsing their products. This directly relates to the point earlier in this post about minimizing confusion about legal issues.

#2. Best Buy

Best Buy is one of the biggest electronic retailers in the country, and has been known to rely heavily on social media platforms like Twitter to provide customer service.

  • Never disclose financial or operational information, internal information regarding promotions, personal, legal or confidential information and anything that belongs to someone else.
  • Employees must disclose their affiliation with the company and clearly state that views are your own opinion.
  • Act responsibly and ethically.
  • Best Buy does not tolerate discriminatory content such as racial, ethnic, sexual, color, creed or religion.

#3. DePaul University

DePaul university has an extremely comprehensive social media policy for all of their employees. In their policy they cover items such as how to use social media, keeping branding consistent, how to respond to comments and what to do if someone writes a negative post. Because DePaul breaks up their policy into 9 easy-to-digest sections, it makes the policy easier to understand and not as overwhelming as it would be if everything were on a single page. Here are some good guidelines that they have included in their policy:

  • They list their best practices for social media – listen, talk, be accurate, be aware of your impact, be calm, be valued, be yourself, maintain confidentiality, be aware of liability and to follow a code of ethics/
  • They tell their employees “their not alone.” By doing they they convey to employees that mistakes will happen and if they do the employees can count on their other team members to assist with the crisis,
  • They have a page in their policy named “EMM Post Response Flowchart” that is exactly what it sounds like, a flowchart. This flowchart depicts what steps to take to determine how an employee should respond to it.
  • They ask employees to build a team and get organized. This is great for building employee advocacy within the workplace, and there are social media advocacy tools like Bambu that can make making teams and staying organized a breeze.

A social media policy is a must-have

By forming and instituting a social media policy for employees, you are putting them in a better position to advocate for your brand online. It gives them guidelines to abide by and a better sense of clarity when it comes to social media use in or out of the workplace. It is important to start thinking of social media in the same context of other forms of communication. Developing an easy to understand policy that empowers employees can be help employees better understand social media and create a more engaged and socially active company.

Does your company have a social media policy? What effect did it have on your staff when it was instated? What do you think the most important part of a social media policy for employees is? Let us know what you think the in comments below!