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The Importance of the Social Media Policy in Today’s World

In this day and age, I was surprised to discover how many companies – particularly start-ups and growth-stage companies – that do not have a social media policy.

Social media is no longer in its infancy stage. In fact, according to the website statisticbrain.com, 98 percent of 18 to 24 year olds use social media on a daily basis. And, as today’s young people complete school and enter the workforce, employers should pay close attention to what they are doing on social media, since this will serve as an indication of the social media habits they can expect from their future workforce.

Regardless of age, the use of social media in a corporate setting is growing in leaps and bounds and with it, the potential for companies to be negatively impacted by what their employees’ post when there are no set rules governing social media within a company or an understanding of the consequences when posting something that does not adhere to pre-set standards. The exploding use of social media necessitates that companies of all sizes have social media policies in place.

There are two basic approaches when designing a social media policy:

  • The first may reflect an organization’s current thinking about ALL media outreach, whether traditional or social. This approach outlines how an organization communicates its views and identifies specific employees that are granted permission to interact with both traditional and social media on a company’s behalf. With few exceptions, these employees either work in an official public relations capacity for the company or are at the senior-most level, such as the President or CEO.
  • The second approach is a more liberal approach to communications in which any employee is permitted to speak publicly through social media, as long as they adhere to company guidelines about what they can and cannot say.

Regardless of the approach, a good social media policy will balance the lines between protecting a company’s reputation, managing risk, and maintaining productivity while allowing employees to express their views. It is important to understand though, that social media policies should reflect the culture of an organization. This is not a one size fits all situation. What works for one company may not be right for the other.

If your organization does not currently have a social media policy in place, you may want to review and emulate those of other companies similar to yours that do. Otherwise, following are some considerations in crafting your own:

  • Identify who within the organization the policy applies to
  • If employees are posting their own websites or writing their own blogs, recommend using a disclaimer that states something like, “the views on this site/blog, including but not limited to images, links and comments are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer’s posted strategies or opinions.”
  • Transparency and identification are important – a good social media policy necessitates that employees use their real names, that they work for the company and, if they have a vested interest in the topic, to point it out.
  • Perceptions are key – remember: the lines between personal and professional use are blurred. The best advice: do the company proud.
  • Regarding negative content – a good social media policy acknowledges that it is okay to be negative in the context of a conversation, but don’t be offensive or ugly.
  • Comply with the confidentiality policies of a company. Employees should not disclose financial information and reference an organization’s customers/clients or suppliers, for example.
  • Identify the consequences of NOT complying with the social media policy.

Other areas to consider include:

  • Specifying how the company’s logo should be used in social media. This might include a rule about posing in a company uniform.
  • Being cognizant and respectful of copyright laws
  • Adding value by:
      • Posting meaningful and respectful content
      • Not spamming
      • Being interesting
      • Not being annoying or irritating
      • Representing the company knowledgably by writing only about what you know
  • Identifying whether or not your company works in a regulated industry, such as pharmaceuticals, as there are rules that apply to such companies regarding the posting of information on social media.
  • As a public company, being mindful of SEC rules regarding information posted on social media sites. Companies in the pre-IPO stage should understand the rules governing the quiet period.
  • Always thinking about the consequences of what is being posted. For example:
      • Is professional advice being given?
      • Can the content have implications in litigation?
      • Is an employee’s posting something to be proud of? Is it something that represents your organization in the best light?

Social media offers numerous benefits to an organization; marketing, strengthening relationships with current customers, establishing meaningful and profitable relationships with prospects, and establishing thought leadership are among them. Companies however, need to minimize their social media risk and protect their brand reputation and intellectual property by carefully constructing guidelines for social media use throughout an organization.