It’s no secret that when used properly, social media can be a powerful business tool. Whether that power positively or negatively affects an organization’s brand message and reputation can depend on two things: how well its social media policy is crafted and how well the employees adhere to it.
Without an effective social media policy, a business is unable to harness social media’s potential. Employees may avoid advocating for the company because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, management may welcome employee support for company goals but not be sure how to encourage it, and executives may worry about employees posting damaging comments on both company and personal social media platforms.
HR managers rely on a social media policy, as part of their overall code of conduct plan, to maintain positive relationships with current employees and establish a good hiring reputation in the marketplace. When employees feel empowered by their employer’s social media policy and understand their employers’ expectations, a positive workplace atmosphere naturally develops, and a good work environment encourages top-level job seekers to apply to the organization. You see, prospective employees consider a company’s reputation before applying for a position, and nothing can destroy a reputation faster than a few negative comments on social media.
If you or your organization has been looking for a way to harness the power of social media by crafting a simple, clear, effective social media policy (and one that makes a human resource manager’s job easier), then the following five tips should help you when getting started.
1. Get Perspective
When developing a social media policy, one of the most important elements to consider is that an organization’s social media policy is never static. As the world changes, aspects of the social media policy need to adjust, so there should be regular reviews and updates.
To create a social media policy that serves the organization and its employees now and for the foreseeable future, it’s a good idea to seek input and feedback from the communications, marketing and legal departments, as well as upper management and employees.
2. Establish Branding Goals
Before deciding what to expect from employees, clearly outline all branding goals from product benefits and company vision, to social values and ethics. The marketing department can describe product or service benefits and marketplace positioning. Beyond products and services, an organization should specifically outline societal outlooks and policies.
These days, consumers pay attention to corporate attitudes and ethics more often than they used to and sometimes choose a brand because of a company’s support of a cause. Conversely, negative publicity about a social issue can turn people against a company and its products or services.
To help employees understand expectations, an organization needs a clearly defined policy on justice and equality issues. Company attitudes and practices concerning racial equality have recently become especially important. Management should caution employees about insensitive comments that could be interpreted as racist.
3. Set Employee Expectations
Divide expectations into organizational social media accounts and personal social media accounts. There should be two sets of instructions and expectations.
Organizational accounts: Decide who can post on company social media accounts. Some organizations limit who has access but if everyone can post on the company accounts, let employees know how they can advocate for the company and what they can and can’t say. List any company information the legal department wants to keep private.
Establish a policy for responding to negative comments from inside or outside. Employees should be encouraged to bring concerning posts to the attention of the appropriate department.
Personal accounts: On individual social media accounts, encourage employees to be honest about who they are and whose opinion they are expressing. A company’s social media policy should also stress respectful behavior and common-sense precautions.
Employees should not be discouraged from participating on social media platforms but should be encouraged to do so responsibly. Once a post is made, it’s out there.
4. Create Oversight
A big consideration for every company is how to track what their employees are doing. The communications and marketing departments can watch what goes up on organization social sites. Problems need to have a standard handling process. Decide in advance what warrants simple correction and which situations need more. Some issues may suggest a policy change or a company wide communication, for example.
Personal social media connections are a bit trickier. Mostly, reminding employees to be smart about what they post is all a company can do. Usually, management doesn’t have access to an employee’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feed. A problem may only come to light because a post gets reposted or gains a large following and undesirable publicity.
5. Encourage Feedback and Communication
A successful social media policy needs to be dynamic and encourage open communication between employees and the company leadership. Keeping ahead of the news can be tough, and the world changes daily. Managers must clearly communicate changes and additions to a social media policy. Choose an oversight committee and encourage input from anyone and everyone involved. Make changes when they are needed. Make the information available in several ways and consider explaining why a change was needed. Post it electronically and in a break room, send an email and include it in a newsletter.
Two-way communication is vital to a successful social media policy. Employees should know who to contact for questions about what they should and shouldn’t do. They should also feel free to express what they think about what’s happening and make suggestions for improvements. Human resources should keep employees in the loop when adjustments are made.
New social media platforms continue to pop up and an out-of-date, or poorly managed social media policy can spell disaster for a company. A single Facebook post or Tweet can snowball in hours and damage an organization’s brand or reputation.
A Social Media Policy Reduces the Risk of Damage to Your Organization’s Reputation
A company can reduce the chances of an employee posting something damaging by writing, communicating and implementing a clear, understandable social media policy. The policy should have input from several departments, including legal, communications, marketing and human resources. The policy needs to be based on a defined set of branding and social justice goals and the legal department’s edicts on what sensitive information should be kept private.
Human resources should encourage employees to communicate openly and use common sense when deciding what and if to post something.
Writing, disseminating, and then simply forgetting about your organization’s social media policy isn’t sufficient. Company and social changes often mean additions and adjustments. Social media makes today’s business world unpredictable, but a social media policy will help.
Does Your Organization Have an Official Code of Conduct?
A social media policy should be part of an organization’s comprehensive code of conduct. Management must tell employees how they are expected to behave under all circumstances, including while on their social media platforms of choice. Without general rules about how to relate to fellow employees and customers, communicate about problems and complaints, and what’s expected during off-duty hours, employees can create uncomfortable and unproductive situations for themselves and others.
For more information on how to create a comprehensive code of conduct policy, download our FREE eBook: Creating a Code of Conduct.