Create a Social Media Policy for Your Business

When entering the world of new media, the critical starting point is to develop social media policies and guidelines that govern employee behavior on the social web. Consider the web as an open ear to anything and everything you choose to post publicly — comments, news, and advertising included. All posts give a clue to your opinions and business direction, so be sure to select your words carefully.

Common sense comes into play when executing your outreach. Very little on the Internet disappears, so we live and die by every word we place on the web. This may sound a bit dire, but as a wise man once said, “Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to appear on the front page of the New York Times.

As of March 2012, 76 percent of companies do not have a clearly defined social media policy. It is in your best interest to develop one for your company.

The Mayo Clinic’s Friday Faux Pas blog (yes, even the Mayo Clinic is in social media), is an ongoing reminder of how social media posts can go horribly wrong. A sample blog post is shown in this figure.

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It seems perfectly plausible that a large percentage of the people you hire will be personally participating in social media in some form. Their emotional (and legal) investment in your company may not be at the top of their minds when it comes to their Facebook, Twitter, or other online postings.

Off-handed comments, unauthorized deals, and personal mentions about your company can put your business and even your customers at risk. One rogue post can unravel years of hard work and reputation building.

Spirit Airlines was fined $50,000 by the U.S. Department of Transportation for not clearly disclosing the full price in a 2011 promotion. As part of their campaign, Spirit posted Tweets on Twitter about $9 one-way tickets from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

Sounds like a great deal, right? What they didn’t say was that including taxes and fees, the $9 fares were $35 each way. Additionally, to qualify for the $9 fare, customers had to sign up for Spirit’s "$9 fare club" for an annual fee of $59.95.

Facebook and Twitter are not the only platforms where gaffes occur. You need to clearly outline all media connections, including LinkedIn and YouTube, in your social media guidelines. Your employees may also participate in video sharing, photo sharing, blogs (their own or commenting on others), podcasts, wikis, online communities, and “private” groups, such as those on Facebook. This figure shows the vast outreach your employees may have.

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Everyone you employ is a reflection of your company. Whether or not they put a disclaimer in their personal online biography (“All my Tweets are my own” or “Opinions and thoughts are mine”), customers, friends, and other employees might know that they work for you.

Before jumping on the terror bandwagon about what your employees might post, consider the benefits of having your business mentioned on a worldwide platform. The point of being on new media is that you can spread the word in a positive way.

Hiring employees who understand your company culture — those who have a group spirit and are not self-focused — is the first step toward not only positive social media mentions but also a productive work environment. Employees who can back your ideas and embellish with their own experience are invested in your success and reputation online.

Be sure to keep confidential information confidential. Employees should never be able to share metrics, internal communications, and performance data about your company.

Consider the following employee guidelines in your company social media policy:

  • It is best not to participate in personal attacks, foul language, disparaging comments, harassment, or topics of a flammable nature. In reality, comments such as these never lend to any form of credibility.

  • Speak respectfully about the company and our current, past, and potential employees. What one says reflects back on all those involved.

  • Before posting photos of or tagging fellow employees, clients, vendors, and business partners, be sure to ask their permission.

  • Always identify yourself as an employee when referring to our business or services.

  • If you see a customer service issue involving your company, alert the appropriate person within the organization so he can respond immediately.

  • Unless you are given explicit permission, please do not speak on behalf of the company or represent that you do.

  • Your personal sites should remain personal in nature and should not be used to share work-related information.

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