For companies of all sizes, social media represents both an opportunity and a threat. It enables employees and leaders to broadcast both personal and corporate views and build rapport with customers or potential customers. And allows customers to publicly praise or criticize. Yet it can also backfire. In the case of one Yelp employee, for example, it was decidedly negative – Talia Jane went online to protest against low pay, writing an open letter to the Yelp CEO. There are also examples closer to home where politicians have made statements which cause a backlash and subsequent apologies from the political party. There are countless stories like this, and scenarios in which companies have suffered enormous reputational damage from online rants and individual social media ‘campaigns.’
While companies can never be fully in control, and arguably, should never aspire to be, it is critical to put policies and programmes in place that educate employees around the perils of social media. Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. Such policies are designed to protect the integrity of both employees and the companies they work for. They provide guidance, and also ‘rules of the game’ to keep employees on the right side of the increasingly blurred line between personal and professional use of social media platforms.
What do these policies look like?
Essentially, a social media policy outlines how an organisation and its employees should conduct themselves online. This document helps to safeguard the brand’s reputation while also encouraging employees to share the company’s message in a responsible and intelligent way. Because social media moves fast, this policy should be considered a living document— and ongoing updates, edits, changes, etc, will be necessary.
The goal is to provide employees with straightforward guidelines that are easy to follow. And although they may, and probably will, bend the rules and make mistakes occasionally the guidelines are there to keep them within bounds and the organisation out of trouble.
Whether your company is already well established on social forums – or just beginning to build its presence online – every business should have a robust social media policy in place.
Here are a few ways that your SME will benefit:
Guard against reputational damage
By clearly explaining to your employees how best to represent the company online —including what they can and cannot share or post—you will mitigate the threat of irreversible reputational harm. In addition, a clear social media policy will explain what actions need to be taken in the event of online shaming, social media bullying or generally toxic comments.
Enable employees to become brand ambassadors
Today, social media policies can also be enormously helpful when it comes to brand amplification. They tap into your biggest advocacy group: your employees. Indeed, company messaging is often considered more credible when it comes from actual people/individuals, especially when they genuinely buy into your company and its mission.
With clear guidelines, companies can help their employees understand how to use social media to promote the brand. To use your social media policy as an employee advocacy tool, the document should outline best practices for sharing company content on social – as well as commenting on online.
What to include in your social media policy:
We suggest breaking your social media policy into two areas:
- Social media policy for the company’s official accounts.
- Social media policy for employees.
While there is overlap between the two areas, there are aspects of both that may require specific detail.
Rules and Regulations
This section should outline your company’s expectations for appropriate employee behaviour and conduct (on behalf of the company or personal) on social media. For example, restricting the use of profanities or controversial opinions when posting about the company.
A few specifics should include:
- Brand guidelines: How to talk about your company and products
- Etiquette and engagement: Outline how you want employees to respond to mentions of your brand (positive and negative)
- Confidentiality: Defines what company information should never be shared on social media.
Roles and Responsibilities
This section should outline who is responsible for specific social media governance tasks. You might want to create a table, divided into two columns. The first column would define a specific social media responsibility—brand guidelines, for example, and the person responsible for governing that (likely the brand manager) would appear in the second column.
Potential Legal Risks
To help avoid any legal blunders, your social media policy should provide clear guidelines for handling any areas of potential concern. For instance precluding the possibility of an employee posting information which might be protected by an NDA. Do your research and be sure to involve legal counsel in this process.
From phishing scams to ransomware attacks, social media security risks are, unfortunately, very high. Companies must be hyper-vigilant when it comes to protecting their online presence.
Social media policies can help safeguard against such risks by making employees aware of the threats, how to avoid them, and what to do should an attack occur.
Your policy should provide guidelines on how to:
- Create secure passwords
- Avoid phishing attacks, spam, scams, and other malicious threats
- How to respond in the event of a security breach or attack
- Avoid posting business-specific information which could be used in a social engineering hack
Essentially, every employee is responsible for what he/she puts online. Always remind your employees to exercise caution and common sense – whether they’re posting on behalf of the company or on their personal channels.
Such policies require a significant investment of time and resources, but it is truly an element of doing smart business today that simply cannot be ignored!