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Reasons why you need a social media policy

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Clients and trainees alike have often ask why they should care about a social media policy and what it really means?. 

Search Compliance defined Social media policy as a corporate code of conduct that provides guidelines for employees who post content on the Internet either as part of their job or as a private person. The goal is often to set expectations for appropriate behavior and ensure that an employee's posts will not expose the company to legal problems or public embarrassment. 

I have decided to firm up Dave Fleet’s original answer to the nagging question in this post. Despite what some people say, social media still has rules that applies and some of those rules may be similar to those you already have in your organization; others may be different. One critical element about policies is that they provide the needed structure not just for you but your colleagues/employees.

Here are some critical points to consider on the rationale and the components to consider before and when developing a social media policy for your agency, organization or your project:

1. A good social media policy clearly outlines what the company will and will not do online; what employees can and cannot do online and what members of the public can and cannot do on company properties.

2. It protects the organization by setting boundaries around what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.

3. It empowers employees by letting them know what the limits are, so they can use social media tools acceptably without fear of repercussion.

Think about the stakeholders and consider the following

1. There is a need for the Senior Management to buy-in if policies are to be effective.

2. PR and Marketing must be active stakeholders to drive the policy development

3. I.T may already have limits on sites which employees can access.

4. H.R. may affect existing employee guidelines and may have labour relations implications.

5. Legal counsel may be sort from Legal department while developing the policy

The other important component in developing a social media policy is a deep and thoughtful consideration of the Internal and external audience such as employees and consumers.

Internal Policies

o Set the boundaries for what employees can and cannot do.
o Some parts may already exist within current employee guidelines.
o May or may not be posted for those outside the organization to see.

–Consider three areas:
o General guidelines, Employee blogging and Engagement by employees

General Guidelines
–Consider these areas:

Boundaries-are employees actively encouraged to engage in conversations regarding the organization (may depend on organizational culture)?
Transparency-are employees required to identify themselves as employees when discussing the organization? (Likely: yes)?
Confidentiality-may employees discuss confidential information?
Financials-May employees discuss financial information? (No)
Consequences-outline the consequences both for the company and the employee when someone says something ill-advised
Work use–is social media use permitted during work hours (may differ depending on whether employees are encouraged to engage in conversations regarding the organization)?

Employee Blogging
–Consider these areas:

Advice-consider giving best-practice tips on things like transparency, disclosure, human voice, etc. Not necessarily rules; guidelines for how to approach the medium with a minimum of risk and maximum effect.
Attribution–state that if employees cite content created by others, they should acknowledge it.
Copyright–may employees use the organization’s logo, name etc (you may want to restrict their use)? Also consider stating that employees should not violate the copyright of others.
Ownership–who owns the content of employee blogs, along with the responsibility for the content?.
Confidentiality-as with the employee guidelines below, consider stating explicitly that employees should not disclose confidential information. Its common sense, but you should be explicit.
Disclaimer–should employees’ state that they are writing as themselves, not as representatives of the company (unless they are)?
Existing policies–note that the blogging police does not supersede other existing policies, and that employees must continue to abide by those.

Engagement by Employees

•Your general guidelines may cover the boundaries for employee engagement –who may or may not engage in conversations relating to the company.
•If you encourage employees to engage in such conversations, consider framing them with simple guidelines:

–Do no harm–may employees attack competitors via their comments?

•Consider the potential harm to your reputation if this is discovered.

–Transparency–if commenting on a work-related discussion, should employees disclose their affiliation/conflict of interest?

External Policies
•Set the expectations and boundaries for behaviour of people outside your company.
•Posted publicly on your corporate website/other online properties.

•Consider two areas:

–Comment moderation
–Online interaction

Comment Moderation
•Sets the boundaries for acceptable behaviour on company properties and consider:
–Language and manners: Will you reject comments which include offensive or inappropriate language?
–Personal attacks: Will you allow personal attacks? 
•In an ideal world you might allow people to question or argue your company’s content –after all, this medium is about conversation. However as we all know, this isn’t an ideal world. 
•Even if you do allow criticism, consider outlawing aggressive attacks.

On-topic comments: What will you do with comments that veer away from the topic of the post or other peoples’ comments?
Comment spam: Will you allow comments that appear to be spam?
Number of links: Do you want to limit the number of links that you will allow? Will you use no-follow links?
Blocking: Will you take action against repeat offenders?
Contact: Will you provide a way for commenters to contact someone if their comment is not approved, or if they have other questions?

Online Interaction
•Sets the expectations for the way your company will behave online and consider these areas:

•Spam and off-topic comments: Will you respond to spam or off-topic comments? 
•Defamation: You may want to avoid responding to defamatory remarks.
•Misinformation: Ideally, you should aim to correct misinformation as soon as possible. 
–Remember, if people don’t see a correction they may assume an incorrect statement to be true.
•Dissent: What’s your approach to commenters who simply disagree with you? 
–Will you debate with them? Will you avoid the conversation? Where do you draw the line between dissent and trolling?

Timeliness: Assuming your processes allow for it (which they ideally should), consider stating that you will reply to online comments as soon as possible, within a defined period of time.
–If you will not have 24/7 coverage for online conversations, say so. Companies have been criticised for not responding to issues during the weekend, for example.
Honesty and accuracy: Consider stating that you will take all possible steps to ensure that what you post is complete and accurate.
Error correction: Make it clear that if you post something that you discover is inaccurate, you will endeavour to correct it immediately.
Confidentiality: Publicly state that you will not discuss confidential information.
Disclosure: Note that when employees engage in public conversations about the organization, they will disclose their affiliation.

•The original author behind this article is Dave Fleet

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