How to develop a social media policy and protect your company’s reputation

Develop a Social Media Policy and Protect Your Company’s Reputation

Who hasn’t posted something on a blog, Twitter account, Facebook profile, YouTube channel or other social media sphere that was subsequently regretted and removed? Since social media began dominating the Web, everything you post is potentially permanent. If your statement goes viral, you and your company could attain instantaneous celebrity — or infamy.

Social media is blurring the line between personal and professional, pulling the two worlds together in unique ways. Many employees have already lost their jobs for posting disparaging remarks about clients, and a YouTube video has forever tarnished the reputation of a popular pizza chain.

Meanwhile, social media has significantly improved the relationships and communication between many companies and their customers. As of January 2010 only about one-third of American companies had explicit social media policies, but that number is growing as more of them realize the need for one.

This article provides a basic outline of social media policy theories, content and tools for CEOs, presidents, human resource officials and other executives.

Your employees more than likely already have an online presence, as does your company. Regardless of whether your employees are explicitly linked to your company, their actions reflect upon it. Social media policy expands beyond the workplace, providing a framework for both personal and professional social media conduct. A positive social media presence is an excellent way to brand your company, but this presence also carries certain risks. Social media policies empower companies to manage these risks and safeguard their online reputations.


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Philosophies behind today’s social media policies

Companies primarily follow two different philosophies when creating a social media policy.

  • Some prefer to build the policies organically, allowing them to evolve and change as each new problem or challenge arises.
  • Others prefer to create a comprehensive framework that encompasses all social networks.

Each philosophy has its advantages and disadvantages. Social media is constantly transforming, making it difficult to create a static policy that isn’t too rigid. On the other hand, an overly loose policy might fail to foresee problems as new technologies become available. Which philosophy you choose to follow depends primarily on your company’s industry and specific concerns.

Regardless of the philosophy you choose, it’s important that it emphasize what your employees can do rather than what they can’t. It should be an informal guide about etiquette and behavior rather than an imposing and overbearing code. Perhaps the most effective way to develop your policy is to consult those in your company who have the largest social media presence. They will be able to identify potential pitfalls for your company and help forge the necessary paths around them.


Essential elements of a social media policy

Though your company’s social media policy should be sensitive to your business’s specific needs and concerns, a number of points must be included in every policy, including:

  • addressing the personal and professional uses of social networking sites and
  • defining an employee’s role in both spheres.
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Employees are personally responsible for what they post and should exercise good judgement before publishing anything online. All posts should accurately and honestly represent either the employee or the company while respecting copyright and fair use law. Employees must also always protect your company’s confidential information.

Social media provides an unparalleled arena for marketing and public relations. Employees must respect this fact in regards to how they represent themselves on social and professional media. Disclaimers should follow all personal opinions, and posts to company sites should be closely monitored, perhaps with an approval system.

Employees must take care not only to post inoffensive material, but also useful material that reflects positively on your company, its services and its reputation. Your company should reserve the right to remove inappropriate posts or comments from all of its social media sites.

When writing your company’s social media policy, be sure to consult a knowledgeable attorney. After the policy has been created, implement it in a clear and comprehensible fashion. Publishing a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document can help to avoid any potential confusion.


Tools for writing a social media policy

You aren’t alone when it comes to your company’s social media policy. A number of resources have already been published to help companies create effective policies.

  • One of the most beneficial resources is an online database of existing social media policies published by Social Media Governance. With more than 150 policies pulled from different companies, nonprofits and government agencies, the database gives you an inside look at the way different industries have decided to frame their policies.
  • Other databases are available through Compliance Building and Dave Fleet. These policies can be used as guiding examples as well as templates for your own social media policy.
  • Toolkit Cafe sells a Social Media Policies Toolkit for $149 that comes complete with customizable documents ready to be implemented in your company. The toolkit addresses personal blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and a variety of other social networks. It’s an excellent solution for those who want a quick answer to the social media policy question. If you choose to use the toolkit, ensure that your employees thoroughly understand the new policies — a process made easier by two included presentations.

As social networks continue to expand, companies around the world are discovering the need for social media policies. Whether your company’s policy is flexible or firm, you must clearly define the role that social media plays in the professional and personal lives of your employees and their responsibility to your company’s online reputation.

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