Although most companies have a code of conduct, many still lack a company social media policy.
And that is a pretty glaring oversight in a viral world.
A brand’s employees are publicly connected with that brand like never before. While we like to think of our Facebook or Twitter profiles as our private domains, the reality is that the lines between these and our professional profiles are blurred.
So a company social media policy isn’t just a guide for informing employees how to conduct themselves on your branded channels; it is a safeguard for ensuring their personal posting doesn’t overflow there in a negative way.
First, a couple of examples of why you need a social media policy
Just to drive the point home, let’s take a moment to indulge in the kind of social media gaffes we love to read about but would hate to feature in.
1. DiGiorno Pizza errs on the side of misogyny
DiGiorno Pizza made headlines with this stunningly ill-considered post. An employee trend-jacked the anti-domestic violence hashtag #WhyIStayed in the most tasteless manner possible.
Not surprisingly, social media exploded. The company reacted correctly by owning and apologizing for the mistake. It claimed the poster didn’t know the meaning of the hashtag. Nevertheless, this gaffe will continue to haunt it.
2. Z Palette mocks people who can’t afford its products
An employee of makeup company Z Palette took this novel approach to handling the comments about its new product’s hefty price tag.
The above is only a sample of the litany of snarky responses from one of Z Palette’s social media employees. This was compounded by a decidedly unapologetic ‘apology’ from the CEO that was promptly deleted. The blowback was a viral #BoycottZPalette campaign with several online retailers dropping their products.
These are obviously extreme cases with immediate consequences. For most companies, the lack of social media guidelines can manifest itself in more subtle yet still harmful ways:
- Lack of brand consistency
A consistent company story and voice is branding 101. Social media is where that aspiration goes to die for too many businesses. A social media policy is how you can rein that fragmentation in.
- Legal and privacy issues
We have all become a bit blasé about social media and what we share on it. There are many ways to slip up here, from divulging customer information to employees failing to ‘disclose’ their relationship to a product they are sharing. Each brand should reflect on the pitfalls here and bake them into their social media guidelines. US companies must also be up to date on FTC regulations, which have been notably tightening in recent years.
- Lost opportunities
You are probably familiar with Google’s concept of ‘micro-moments’, the instances of interaction that define a brand’s relationship with its audience. Social media is now where many if not most of these moments play out. Lack of social media guidelines could mean moments squandered.
So what is a social media policy?
First, let’s quickly cover what a company social media policy isn’t.
A social media policy isn’t just a list of rules about what employees shouldn’t do. Despite the examples given above, any smart brand should want its employees to be active on its behalf on social media. Employee advocacy is a powerful asset that can greatly extend a company’s reach, free of charge.
Linkedin research shows that employees get twice the clickthrough rate for branded content that a company page would get for the same post. As the report states: “This underscores that the source of content matters, and that both trust and authenticity are key factors when engaging with content online.”
So, for every “don’t” in your social media policy, there should be a “do”. Highlighting what could go wrong is important, but the core goal of a social media policy is to encourage responsible and measured social media engagement.
How to write a social media policy
Here are examples of how a policy can be framed from our own Falcon.io Social Media Policy—and its authors, TJ Kiely, our Content Marketing Manager, and Laura Daddiego, our Social Media Manager.
They state three golden rules, all of which empower rather than discourage employees to engage on social media. These are Use Common Sense, Know When to Disengage, and Inspire. Let’s take them from the top:
Understand the social network. Different social media platforms have different purposes.
Correct your own mistakes. When you make a factual error in a post, create an update to correct it.
Beware of potential security threats. You should report any suspicious activity to your team.
Think before posting. Not only should you check grammar and spelling, but ensure there won’t be any negative effects from posting a status update.
Play nice. We don’t need to tell you to not be racist, sexist, spammy, and/or offensive—and that extends to mocking or critiquing competitors. Don’t interact with posts that speak badly about your brand or your competitors. Be positive, be the bigger person.
No, really. Do not externally share any confidential information or internal documents. Do not publicly discuss financial info, sales trends, strategies, forecasts, legal issues or future promotional activities.
Don’t escalate issues. Responding to other social media users, especially concerning a contentious subject, can result in a heated argument. Avoid the temptation to react yourself.
Don’t feed the trolls. Things can get nasty on social, and with hundreds of eyeballs on the conversation, it’s best to turn the other cheek and let your content and product speak for themselves.
Silence can be golden. Stay away from topics that are known to cause disputes like political views or religious beliefs and respect others’ opinions.
Sharing is caring. It’s our duty to inspire and share on social. Be a digital thinker and a socially savvy employee, with a social profile as a place to share your expertise. By sharing posts, you help put your brand name out there and create opportunities.
Looks matter. Keep your posts sharp. Use correct grammar. Any imagery should be in-line with your company’s design guidelines. Don’t upload low-resolution or outdated logos.
Use apps. This one is a bit of an in-house luxury. Being a social media platform means we have an app our employees can use to easily source and share content. If you’re not a Falcon.io customer, there are apps out there to help you out. Our friends at Medium provide a list here.
Essentially, your social media policy should help your employees make the right kind of impression in the most effective context.
For example, it can be very tempting to go for a sales pitch with a curious person who is engaging on your feeds. And sometimes, the iron really is hot.
However, this will not always be the case, so employees should be encouraged to exercise caution—or, as is the case in many companies, only allow designated people to engage.
We all get put off by over-aggressive sales overtures if we walk into a store. The comments section of our social posts is no different. A positive customer experience should be paramount.
How to activate your social media policy
- Offer templates and advice on how to build a post
Pointers and examples of good posts are a simple way to encourage good posting. For example, events and conferences are one scenario where employee posting is extremely recommended. This shows the brand’s human face and presents your company as being among the movers and shakers of your industry. Your social media policy can give guidelines and tips on how to create the best posts—here are some pointers from our policy:
1. Tweets with images get twice as much engagement as those without—so please attach an image, a gif or a small video to your caption.
2. Posting on Instagram? Tag the location, the speakers or other employees if you can.
- Include social media in employee onboarding
As mentioned, your company social media policy should encourage employee social engagement. And the optimal time to do that is when employees first arrive. For that reason, social media guidelines should be included in the onboarding process.
Make enablement your social media policy
There is a tendency to freeze up a little when the company brass dispenses rules. But this is one area where employees will be grateful for the guidance, and where companies can benefit greatly from their involvement. So don’t be afraid to let employees loose on social media. With the right direction, they can only add value to your brand.