An organisation’s stakeholders do not just show up in annual general meetings anymore, they are tracking the company’s activities every single second. The online penetration in every industry – big or small, has rendered a strong online presence imperative for every business. In fact, if a business wants to succeed in the current market, they are left with little choice but to have a social footprint in the form of social media.
What makes social media of such extreme importance is the fact that it is being harnessed not just by the brand’s customers each day, but also by the company’s own employees – in a way to strengthen the company’s unified voice.
Almost half the employees, 47% to be exact, use social media to connect with the customers, which is only slated to grow in the coming future. Imagine such a huge number talking, tweeting and commenting via different social media channels about a particular brand, without any set guidelines! There could be ten different legal repercussions of one single statement, when it comes to social media usage, including productivity, privacy infringement, and a host of other legal matters.
What’s alarming is also the fact that while 74% of adults indulge regularly on social media, almost 73% of the companies do not yet have a social media policy in place! Social media has no doubt become a necessity, but so is having a social media policy for employees because,one poorly timed or worded message by the employee can totally tarnish your brand reputation.
Let’s look into how organisations can mitigate such risks by charting out their own social media policy, what should be its components, and how it can be implemented.
The ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of Creating a Social Media Policy for Your Organisation
What is a Social Media Policy?
A Social Media Policy is a go-to document that lets a new hire or even a seasoned social media professional understand what an organisation’s policies are when it comes to handling different official channels on social media. It is a document stating guidelines to the employees regarding the company’s social media use.
There are certain best practices to be followed when drafting a social media policy; it should be comprehensive, without being too broad and must be readily understood by all employees. It is a legal and official document that includes details regarding content that can be posted to the internet by the employees, either as a part of their job or even on the personal front.
Even if an organisation has been lucky enough to not face a major social media crisis yet, in no way companies can take a passive stand in terms of the same. There are always other risks, such as underplaying your online market potential and letting potential revenue sources go untapped. Besides that, there are a few compelling reasons which favour having a social media policy:
1. Empowers Staff:
It is a good sign if your employees are active on social media and particularly on your official channels;it helps tremendously in brand amplification. However, with a set of clear guidelines, you can multiply this effect even further by helping them understand how they can use social media to promote a positive brand image. Ensure they have the answers to the following questions before they even start to interact on the company’s social media:
- Who is allowed to speak on behalf of your brand?
- How to maintain the right voice on social media?
- How to set privacy settings appropriately?
- Which topics and information are restricted?
For example, the social media policy of ‘Best Buy’ restricts its employees to disclose information that is financial, operational and legal in nature as well as any information that pertains to clients and customers.
2. Protect Company Reputation:
There could be various issues that may arise for a brand such as labour relations issues, employee/client confidentiality, miscommunication, spamming etc. A social media policy is like a protection net, which defends an organisation against security risks and legal issues.
Firstly, employees should know exactly how to engage with potential customers online, which is the base of forming a social media policy in the first place. Secondly, they should also understand that any employee conducting themselves negatively, will also promote a negative image of your brand, making it very difficult for the company to grow.
For example, when employees know exactly which information can or cannot be shared, brands are automatically safeguarded from online scams and hackers, and against leaking of sensitive company data. A social media policy then serves as an important tool, which helps keep the dangers of sharing online content at bay as well as keep your employees out of trouble.
What Needs to be Included in a Social Media Policy?
1. Define Roles:
Before assigning duties to employees, it is important to define a set role for each team member. The first step is to figure out exactly who is authorised to speak for your brand on social media and who isn’t. Ensure this information flows throughout the company in the form of an email which clearly mentions the names and email addresses of the employees responsible for each task and whom to approach, should any such need arises. Tasks can include the following:
- Posting content every day
- Customer service
- Strategy, planning and execution
- Monitoring and listening
- Security and passwords
- Legal or other approvals
- Crisis response
- Training other employees on social media usage
2. Establish Security Protocols:
There should be a proper set of safety and security measures in place, including information on how to prevent social media risks altogether. How often do you change your passwords? Who has access to them and who maintains them? Is your organisational software regularly updated? What about devices? Whom should employees speak with in case of a concern?
Let the employees know the answers to the above with the help of a social media policy.
3. Conflict Management:
It’s very common for brands to face criticism on social media since it takes hardly a spark to escalate any issue into a full-blown social media crisis. Ensure your social media policy states what one should do if anyone leaves a negative comment about your brand online or how to respond in case of a disagreement.
Also, the best way to deal with the conflict is to include an emergency contact list, including your legal and PR experts, within the social media policy. Let your employees know that anytime they engage in a discussion about the company, whether they post from the business or their personal accounts, they are in a way representing the company and their views in a way reflect on the brand.
Therefore, it is important to include a clause for conflict management, so that the employees can approach the right person and resolve the issue. It is also possible to include some standard responses to common situations in your social media policy. These could range from unhappy customers, customers who are looking for a refund on their purchases, copyright infringement, threats and so on.
4. Posting from Personal Accounts:
As a business, you not only need to have guidelines for employees who represent your business on social media, but it is also important to have a set of guidelines for your employees to follow on their personal accounts as well. What your employees’ post on social channels will always be a reflection on you and your brand in the social media world.
If they post questionable content on their personal accounts, somewhere your brand reputation suffers as well. To avoid any complications, your social media policy can outline basic expectations which your employees need to keep in mind such as staying within legal guidelines, doing a thorough checking of facts and sources and be sure that the information they post is truthful etc.
Mention the importance of doing the same as once any information that enters the social footprint, remains online forever.
5. Protect Employees and Sensitive Information:
What falls in the gambit of sensitive information may differ from person to person. Therefore, it is also important to define what exactly can be considered sensitive information pertaining to your particular business.
The policy should clearly prohibit employees from posting information that may directly or indirectly put your business or your staff at risk and explain how certain information can create a risk.
For example, if your company is launching a new product which is yet in the development stage, your employees should have a clear idea of whether this can be put online in the form of promotional content or it’s a strict ‘no-no’, as doing so could hamper your future sales. Your social media policy should be able to define boundaries for employees pertaining to what can or cannot go online.
How to Implement a Social Media Policy?
The online community is no different from the offline business, except for the fact that the written word grabs more eyeballs the moment it is put out. This makes implementing your social media policy quickly and correctly fundamental to the smooth functioning of any business. Here are some ways to successfully implement your social media policy:
1. Respect Privacy:
While it is a common practice to amplify your brand’s reach through employee advocacy and social selling, what is equally vital is to respect your potential customers’ privacy.
It can be tempting to transfer names and private information from different social media communities to your company CRM, but this is one practice which is totally unacceptable from a customer’s viewpoint and against the law.
It is important to conduct business in a way that does not hamper anyone’s privacy, more so in the online world which can prove to be a sensitive matter later on for your business.
2. Everything is Public:
Brands and employees should keep in mind that privacy settings could change from platform to platform and nothing that enters the realm of the internet can stay truly protected. Information can get leaked or even hacked.
Stay mindful of what is being published on official company channels as well as employees’ personal accounts. Employees should refrain from posting content that may prove to be disastrous for their careers.
3. Stay Professional, Always:
It is one thing for employees to indulge in a one-on-one conversation with their prospective buyers online, but another thing altogether if the conversation has taken a twisted turn and needs to be handled in a tactful manner.
Only the people officially responsible for communicating on behalf of the company should be allowed to speak to or reply to certain communications, such as trolls who may engage in derogatory, racist or sexist comments regarding the brand.
The same applies to employees too. They should never indulge in using ethnic or racist comments, personal insults, obscenity, etc. It is expected out of employees to stay within professional boundaries at all times, not only in the workplace but also in the social world.
4. Understand Legalities:
Internet comes with the benefit of easily copying content and pasting it on your social media platform’s wall, but that does not imply that it is your content. Ensure that your employees understand when and if they can use the company logo and under what circumstances.
Other than this, any form of content – visual, audio, and text should not be used without first seeking proper permissions from its rightful owner, especially if they are copyrighted, to avoid facing legal issues.
5. Check Before Posting:
Like mentioned above, written word on the internet stays forever. It is expected out of each employee and especially the ones who speak on official company channels, to first investigate any information that they may have come across online, before putting it online and giving it a thumbs-up.
What you post as a brand, will instil your brand’s image in the minds of your followers, so take some time and check for the authenticity of the information.
6. Stay Totally Transparent:
It would not be the first time that someone goofs up on the internet, which happens all the time. However, as a brand, it is important to never fall in that category but should such an incident occur, instead of hiding from the error, quickly issue an apology.
The post could well be deleted to prevent further damage. But never shy away from being transparent about your mistakes.
7. Maintain Confidentiality:
What happens inside your business is completely your business. Brands have the complete right to keep internal communications confidential. At any point in time, it is not advisable to start sharing sensitive information such as strategy meetings and inside rumours online.
Your social media policy is in itself a living document that will clearly state what can and cannot go online. In case of any doubts, employees should be encouraged to speak up about the same and confirm before posting anything online.
8. Seek Inputs:
Since every business is different from the other, there is no one size fits all approach to implementing a social media policy. It is a good idea to seek possible inputs from various stakeholders of your business such as the HR team or the public spokesperson who may have key ideas around your business’s unique needs. Also, don’t forget your legal team, which will surely have the most important inputs to share.
Your social media policy should be able to let your employees advocate your brand positively, after all, employee advocacy delivers up to 1000 times more traffic for your business. Since your employees are already active on social media, give them the wings to derive incredible results for your company with the help of a social media policy that empowers them!