Social Media Guidelines ~ have you got yours yet?
So why do you need them?
Because your prospective, current, and former employees, customers, supporters and vendors are already hanging out on social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and many others.
What are they discussing about your organisation, your employees and your workplace? What are they sharing, right now, about you, your products, prices and practices?
And perhaps, more importantly, how are your people responding?
Having Social Media Guidelines and Policies in place doesn’t mean you can totally control your organisation’s online persona. But you do get to interact responsibly in the conversation which forms your image in the mind of your audience.
You can be helped, not hindered, by all your employees.
Why wait until a casual remark becomes a PR crisis?
Social media policies are not one-size-fits-all
Social media policies and guidelines provide your enterprise with a framework to carry out your social media strategy and tactics. They have a direct impact on your ability to be successful online.
The right policy for your organisation has to reinforce your organisation’s existing corporate culture and provide practical guidance.
Let me introduce you to my 5x5x5 social media guidelines ~ The 5 Major Benefits, 5 Universal Guidelines, and 5 Tips To Help You Create Your Own.
As you read through them, remember, social media policies are for all your employees, not just your social media management team, for crisis management or any specific social network platforms.
I’ll also help you take a look at important considerations for big and small organisations and the different ways they can operate.
Advantages of Social Media Guidelines
First, there are 5 major benefits which are common to all:
- Provides a way to implement your social media strategy and improve your social media performance
- Gives everyone the information they need to work well together
- Makes it easier to build your social communities online
- Makes it possible to respond to emergencies before they get out of hand
- Creates team spirit and empowers individuals throughout the organisation
Creating the right social media strategy and communicating it clearly in your guidelines will have a direct impact on your success online.
Social Media Guidelines for all organisations
With a wide variety of enterprises that have already adapted and published their own Social Media Guidelines, it’s relatively easy to draft a working document for your organisation. Simply adapt the best and most relevant ones for your purpose.
Here are five suggestions you should consider:
- Keep it simple. Be realistic – if your guidelines are too long winded or complicated they’ll be difficult for employees to follow. Ford, for example, has just five points which are explained on one single page.
- Empower employees. Ask employees to use their best judgment. The reality is that with social media it’s in your employees hands, anyway, to do what they think is best for the customer and for the company. Headset Bros, for example, allow their employees to fix any problem, in any way, immediately that costs less than $50.
- Be careful when sharing information. Request employees to keep confidential information secret, about the company and other individuals.
- Take time before responding on social media networks. Remember the Internet is permanent and never forgets. Remind employees that perception is reality. I think that this is very important because responses will travel from your brain to your keyboard without a second thought, and once something’s ‘out there’, you can’t take it back.
- Don’t pick a fight and correct your mistakes. Understand that you’ll encounter a wide range of individuals on social media platforms. If someone is contentious, be polite and minimize contact. When an error is made, admit it and correct it. Indicate where you’ve changed a previous post or information.
Tips for your own set of Social Media Guidelines
To help your organisation gather the best of the social media guidelines, here are five recommendations. Bear in mind, in the beginning at least, this is a living document. Putting it down on paper doesn’t mean that it can’t be altered, as you learn and understand more about how it works.
Here are my five Tips for you to think about:
- Start with a draft based on a review of other companies’ guidelines. With a wide array of businesses who have adapted social media guidelines; why start from scratch? It’s much easier to edit a document than to stare at a blank sheet of paper.
- Make guidelines positive and proactive, not punitive. You want employees to embrace these principles because they’re representing your organisation, even when they’re not working.
- Keep guidelines as simple and streamlined as possible. Remember your goal is to get employees to follow them. If they’re too complex, they’ll be something that’s too difficult to remember.
- Bring a cross section of representatives together. The goal is not to make this a long extended work-in-progress with meeting after meeting. Rather, have a variety of staff present to ensure that the guidelines work across the entire organisation. This shouldn’t be a legal or HR document, depending on your corporate ethos.
- Give everyone the chance to contribute their input. The objective is to be democratic and ensure that everyone in the organisation takes ownership and responsibility for these guidelines. With broad input, specific elements which are relevant for your company will rise to the surface.
Create the social media guidelines your business needs.
You can easily find examples of social media policies and guidelines used by big organisations. Here are a few different lists of social media policy resources:
Dave Fleet has compiled a list of 57 social media policy examples (actually 61 at last count), and many interesting articles on social media policies to read, as well as a very interesting free Social Media Policies ebook to download.
Chris Boudreaux has developed a database at Social Media Governance with over 214 social media policies from around the world.
There’s a quick set of Social Media Guidelines drawn up for future SocialFish employees at Drafting Social Media Guidelines.
And here are 10 Must-Haves For Your Social Media Policy from Mashable:Business.
But if you want to start from first principles, you should consider using Eric Schwartzman’s Social Media Policy Template.
So now you’re not short of a few examples. And as you look through these resources you’ll notice how some companies have a very different approach.
For example, take a look at these different types of social media guidelines:
Some companies feel the need to provide their employees with general guidelines on how to use social media for both their personal profiles as well as professional profiles.
These guidelines can simply be reminders of what’s considered confidential information or information that could have legal ramifications if shared on social networks in any format.
You can also read the discussion on Forrester’s decision to have their analysts blog on their company blog, and not on personal blogs.
The people interacting and engaging on social media can benefit greatly with guidelines adapted to your business needs.
On one hand, the people interacting on behalf of your company must:
- Be knowledgeable of various legal terms and what they mean in your business environment, such as defamation, endorsements, intellectual property, and any form of wrongful disclosure
- Be aware of global implications of your online communication
- Avoid inappropriate comments about competitors or others online
On the other hand, they must also:
- Remain positive
- Be helpful and add value
- Be transparent
And in addition to this, they are entrusted with cultivating relationships and building community on your social media profiles.
It’s not always easy to balance all of these criteria, especially for people new to social media. And this is where good guidelines can be critical.
If you need this type of social media guide, download. Its a good place to start.
You might want to monitor the negative comments about your business because a crisis can grow very fast. So you’ll want to know how to respond to any social media attacks and have your action guidelines ready to respond to a negative situation before it gets out of hand.
Prepare for any possible crisis you encounter on social media.
For example one of the first places to start is to be sure your team has both social media and business expertise. You’ll also need to delegate enough resources to maintain an on-going presence on your social media sites. This will help you to implement the steps you need in crisis management.
Once you understand how to use social media for crisis management, you’ll want to build your online presence and your:
- Social relationships in your business community
- Social media team
- Online monitoring
You’ll also want to establish clear guidelines to for a quick response.
These usually include:
- Dialogue, as well as the right message
- A team able to provide a rapid response and knowing when to call in public relations professionals experienced in social media crisis management
You can also create editorial guidelines on how to implement your social media strategy on specific platforms such as Facebook. These editorial guidelines can be very useful when you have several people contributing in one place.
Creating specific editorial guidelines can help you build stronger communities on each platform. For example, moderation might need to be handled differently. On your business blog you might opt for pre-moderation of all comments, but this is not something you’ll be able to do on all social media platforms, where you’ll have to adjust your guidelines.
An active Facebook page can have a lot of social interaction. And you may need to monitor your Facebook page more than on other social media platforms and need a small team to rotate at different times of the day. You’ll also want to incorporate more fun activities regularly on your Facebook page to encourage engagement.
While big companies almost always have existing communication policies and these guidelines also apply to social media communication, they also need to make sure they address the specific dos and don’ts.
Big companies might require both internal social media policies and external social media policies.
The question of managing social media celebrities may also be integrated into their social media guidelines.
Smaller organisations may not need all of these social media policies and guidelines. For example, with fewer staff and less time available, smaller businesses may decide it’s quicker to “block” people who leave inappropriate comments.
They might only need one well-crafted set of guidelines, some good judgment and an understanding of social media and their company’s online strategies.
And even if smaller companies think they don’t need social media guidelines, like the bigger companies, they can benefit tremendously from one, because it will:
- Help them to stay focused on their social media strategy
- Allow them to benchmark their progress and better evaluate what to do next
- Allow them to manage the time they invest in social media better
What to do next
OK, this is where we cut through the clutter and find the right social media guidelines for your organisation. Here are the three things you should do now to help you create your own social media guidelines:
- Check out the social media policies and guidelines of companies similar to yours in the lists mentioned above.
- Read the expert articles and interviews, in which many of these social media pros share the simple guidelines that work well for them.
- Pull your social media marketing team together, no matter how small the team is today, and create the first draft of your own social media guidelines.
You’ll learn more as you engage on social media and implement your first social media guidelines. So remember to seek feedback and be ready to tweak your guidelines from time to time to fit in with how your organisation communicates on your social networks. The social platforms change and people also change in how they communicate too.
So what are you waiting for? Take this article and start drafting your organisation’s social media guidelines today. This is one area of social media activity that’s really a “no-brainer” for companies because it’s so vital to protect your most important corporate asset ~ your employees.
Don’t wait until you have an avoidable PR crisis.
Which elements do you think should be included in social media guidelines and why?
Please let me know what works and what doesn’t work for your organisation, so that we all learn.