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Establish Clear Company Guidelines for Social Media

Your organization’s social network outreach is best handled by a single person (or a single department in a larger company). In this way, you avoid duplication and the generation of opposing ideas.

If you feel that the nature of your business means certain topics are verboten, state such topics clearly. Outline your expectations for social engagement and provide examples of what is and is not acceptable.

The point of social connections with your customers is commerce, so it makes plain sense not to do anything to alienate the reader or commenter. (Your online reputation and perception are where social commerce is so intrinsically tied to customer service.)

When crafting the items you post, remember that certain pictures and articles appeal to different groups, so the demographics of your customer should guide you. For example, if your customer base is less than 30 years old, news stories quoted from the AARP website might not resonate. If your customer base reflects all age groups, pepper your posts with ideas that appeal to a broad range of customers.

New York–based Lisa Merriam is a brand consultant who has made a career of helping companies build and manage brands. On her blog Merriam Associates, she shares the following “basic points to cover” in your social media policy:

  • Make sure people know they are personally responsible for what they write. After something has been said, it can’t be unsaid, and there is no telling who will see what is written. Everyone should think twice before hitting the Share button.

  • Be real. Don’t create a fake persona or a faceless corporate presence. Use your real name and identify your relationship with the brand.

  • Think about your audience. You will be talking to clients, future clients, employees, bosses, suppliers, competitors — everybody. Be careful not to alienate them. Ray Catena Lexus, a New York area car dealer, likes the Mets on his Facebook page—how do Yankee fans feel?

  • Stay away from religion, politics, and sex. Good advice for polite company at a dinner party is also good advice for using social media. Be especially careful when thinking of voicing a negative opinion about anything — and never badmouth the competition.

  • Don’t get defensive. Your company may come under criticism. Resist the urge to fight back. Be polite to detractors and use the opportunity to present additional information and resources. Don’t call people names or denigrate their thinking.

  • Don’t misuse copyrighted material. Be sure to provide attribution for any material you share. Never post confidential material.

  • Be helpful, bring value, be amusing. Don’t just blare out commercial messages and public relations fluff. If you get a reputation for being a walking, talking commercial, you’ll be considered a spammer and will be tuned out — often rudely.

When training employees on the fine points of social media, be sure to include these important points.

In June 2012, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) protected social media under the category of “concerted activities”:

Company policies on social media are usually adopted in order to inform employees of the company’s position on use of the company name or logo in social media posts, to prohibit dissemination of confidential business information of the company, and to prohibit employees from presenting their personal views as those of the company.

While these are all legitimate concerns, and prohibiting this conduct does not violate the National Labor Relations Act, many employers have wrestled with stating these legitimate policies specifically enough that they could not be broadly construed as chilling employees’ rights to use social media to communicate with co-workers about workplace conditions.

This discussion lends credibility to an important dialogue of the employer/employee relationship and the Fourth Amendment. Visit the NLRB website and search for social media to learn about further developments.

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