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A tool used in the hands of a skilled craftsman helps but the same tool used haphazardly or without appropriate training is potentially harmful to the user and in this case, the company.
Social media is a prime example of a tool being used for both positive and negative reasons. As a business owner you know that the public doesn’t tend to be very gracious. If the collective voice called your brand misspeaks or missteps even once, there may not be a second chance.
That’s why a social media policy is crucial. Businesses, especially very small businesses, often operate informally.
If it’s you and one or two employees, there’s no reason for a massive company handbook but when it comes to protecting your brand, you can’t be too careful. If an employee is late to work, that’s probably not going to bring down your business. However, if an employee starts your company Facebook page without you knowledge, one inappropriate post could be catastrophic.
Convinced yet? If you are, here are some guidelines for crafting a social media policy.
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1. Before writing, read. This is probably your first attempt at writing a social media policy so why not read other policies first? Go to the Social Media Governance website. You’ll find more than 100 examples.
2. Don’t plagiarize. Use the ideas in the policies you read but don’t copy word for word.
3. Leave out what doesn’t apply. Adidas and Apple are larger companies than yours. Because of their size, they need a more complicated policy. For small businesses, one page might be enough. In other words, the policy is unique to your company.
4. Show it to an attorney. A policy is a legal document. You can’t set policies that infringe on peoples’ free speech rights, for example. Talk to an attorney to make sure your policy isn’t too restrictive.
5. Present it in person. Especially in a small business where you’re not just the boss, but a friend and fellow co-worker, present your policy in person. Explain the heart and vision behind it. Tell them that the rules may sound strict but you want to protect everybody and give them ways to talk about the company in a positive way that follows the letter and spirit of the law.
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With those guidelines in mind, here are some items to include in your policy:
- Your social media policy won’t restate what is already in your employee handbook. Include language that instructs the employee to be familiar with the general employee handbook.
- State that the policy includes all online media including blogs, social media sites, wikis, video, photo sharing sites, etc. If they can post it online, the policy applies.
- All confidentiality agreements apply. No confidential company information can be discussed offline or online.
- Disclose affiliation. If an employee comments on any of your company’s activities, they’re required to identify themselves as an employee and state that their views do not necessarily reflect the views of your company.
- Using company marks isn’t allowed. Using your logo or trademarks isn’t allowed unless they ask for permission first.
- Respect the law. Using pictures found online without permission is illegal if the person doesn’t have the owner’s consent. The same applies to nearly everything else found online. When an employee posts on behalf of your company, they must respect all copyright, privacy, and financial disclosure laws.
- You reserve the right to request that some posts and comments be removed.
- An employee may not start any account, webpage, or discussion group that uses the company name without consent. Any online property created about the company that the company does not own must state that it is not an official page of the company.
But Don’t Just Rule Them to Death!
It’s the nature of a policy but a list of boring rules probably isn’t going to be read and remembered. Include rules but offer help to your employees. Here are a few ideas:
- Negativity doesn’t make you feel better- If it’s negative, don’t post it. Negativity leads to conflict and conflict leads to harsh words. Nobody says that harsh, hateful words make them feel better at the end of the day. Stay positive.
- Be a thought leader- Guide meaningful discussions and help your audience think in a new way. If you’re a design business, your social media presence could be a discussion of new design trends.
- Post pictures of smiling employees. Most employees post about their company because they want to help. Posting pictures of happy people, a fantastic product, or a behind the scenes look (with the company’s permission) is a great way to spread positive buzz.
Make your policy a mixture of rules and education. Present the rule but also a positive alternative. People would rather read how to do something right instead of a list of rules that assumes they’ll do something wrong.
Finally, provide training. Send them articles on social media best practices and continually update your policy in response to new online trends and technology.
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