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Corporate & Reputation

Six@Six: Tips for Creating an Organizational Social Media Policy

Dany Gaspar

A number of organizations are considering the development of formal social media use policies – and for good reason. Given that a new generation of employees has a reputation for living their lives publicly – and loudly – via social networks, organizations need to take the proper steps to help protect both their employees’ reputations, as well their own. After all, every one of a company’s employees represents the company in way or another. Social media policies are different than other typical organizational policies. Normally, companies document what staff should do should certain situations arise. For social media, however, there is no way to know exactly what situations may arise – or in many cases – how staff should best handle them. Compounding the matter is the fact that each social network and each relationship is unique. Add the fact that the social media environment changes daily and the task can seem daunting to say the least. To help you devise a framework that emphasizes caution while also encouraging your employees to engage, this week’s Six@Six looks at six strategies that will enhance your organizational social media policy. Do you have additional tips? Share them with me @Kidi1nu.

1. Involve the team. A social media policy cannot be written by one person alone. It must be unique to your organization and ideally should include input from many different people with a variety of skill sets and responsibilities. A team approach ensures that key areas of risk are managed properly and that any future challenges that may arise are handled appropriately. Besides the staff directly involved in social media, potential team members might include: the CEO, HR director, IT director, marketing/development director, program/department director, a social media–savvy lawyer, and at least one digital native.

2. Encourage employee participation. Another important piece of your policy should be encouraging your employees to participate in social media. Taking a minute to log into Facebook or Twitter has become the new coffee break.  Everyone needs 15 minutes to step away from work and socialize; only now it’s happening online. Razorfish, an interactive marketing agency, does a great job with this. The first line of their social media guideline says that if an employee is not using social influence marketing, please get started. This type of encouragement empowers their employees to become real brand ambassadors online.

3. Focus on culture. Social media is organic. It changes every day. Bureaucratic policies aren’t likely to be successful. Instead, you want a culture of innovation, idea-sharing, problem-solving, and creativity. There is a direct link between internal organizational culture and policies. In fact, the policies we write shape our culture. So, as you write your policies, include processes that reinforce a culture of evaluation and learning. In your policies, you can acknowledge the social media cultural values of transparency, consistency, connection, creativity, and promptness. With these values in mind, build processes that emphasize training, support, and evaluation.

4. Separate overall policies from site-specific guidelines. I’ll repeat it again: the social media landscape changes every day. If your policies are narrowly focused on a specific social media site, they will quickly become obsolete. In general, the policy should focus on the big picture: who does what (roles and responsibilities), a general overview of how they can/can’t do it (legal compliance and branding, for example) and why we do it at all (purpose and values). Separate written guidelines can be created to record the nitty-gritty specifics of a certain social media site. These guidelines help tremendously in the case of staff turnover.

5. Enforce your policy. The hardest part of any policy is enforcing it – but just like your dress code or harassment policies, your social media guidelines need to have teeth. Have steps in place to handle situations and make those steps and the consequences clear to employees. Enforcing this policy prevents potential disasters, such as company leaks and other forms of corporate embarrassment.

6. Revise as needed. Social media moves quickly, so don’t take your eye off the ball. The shelf life of most social media policies is less than a year. You need to keep an eye on the new and emerging channels, engage with them yourself to gain first-hand knowledge, and attend industry events that will help you leverage the opportunities and mitigate the risks of social media. Your organization’s HR professionals should connect with your employees regularly to be aware of their social media activity and any potential risks or liabilities.

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