Creating a Social Media Policy that Makes Sense
Creating a Social Media Policy that Makes Sense
Imagine this…an ex-employee posts harmful information about an upcoming product to their social media page or perhaps an employee gives out the wrong information about a product and something goes wrong. Is this freedom of speech or a clear-cut violation of policy? Who is responsible for erroneous information and what legal ramifications should be considered? If your response is “what policy?” then it’s time to take a closer look at how your business handles social media communications!
Social media marketing agents frequently encounter small business owners in search of quick-fix solutions to problems that should never have arisen in the first place. Once upon a time, social media marketing was a fairly informal affair; create a personal profile, post a few updates now and connect with users in a new way. Today that is quickly changing as social media marketing goes mainstream. With the widespread adoption of sophisticated social media strategies and emerging techniques, the need for an authentic social media policy has become crucial. This is one area where is really pays to prevent a problem from taking place rather than attempt to fix it later. Without a doubt, the big boys of business are forging ahead with lessons that will benefit small business owners.
Lesson #1 – Put the right people in place. The big boys of business understand the need to put the right people in place but as the social media marketing sphere heats up, it’s becoming more and more difficult. It’s no longer acceptable to hire your teenager to update Twitter; there are very real ramifications for what is posted online, how it is accepted by the public and shared with others. Today it’s not uncommon to see job postings specifically for social media strategists, legal reviews, technology experts and more. While small business owners may not have the luxury of hiring a half dozen staff members to dedicate solely to their social media strategy, it’s still possible to put the right people in place via outsourcing. When hiring a social media consulting firm, find out in advance what type of resources are available including technical, content, legal and marketing experts.
Lesson #2 – Reputation is Better (and Cheaper) than Repression. Rather than emphasizing a negative approach, big business realizes it is far more effective…and less expensive…to build a rock solid reputation and plan of action. It’s inevitable; sooner or later something negative will take place. It could be as simple as a disgruntled client or as serious as a major hiccup in business operations. Either way, by having a solid reputation and plan of action in place, employees will understand how to handle these crisis properly. Turning a negative into a positive is much easier than attempting to put the proverbial genie back into the bottle or repressing negative publicity after the fact.
Lesson #3 – Plan for Tomorrow…Today. The legal environment is quickly changing especially as it pertains to social media but those changes don’t just stop with copyright questions, spamming or even advertising claims; labor relations are now one of the hottest topics within the social media sphere. A properly formed policy will include specific language to handle this hotbed of contention both at work and during personal time.
How to Get Started…
As a small business owner, drafting a solid social media policy might sound overwhelming but in reality, it’s easier than you might think. Use these quick steps to get started:
1. Take a big picture approach. The first step is to treat this as you would any other major strategic initiative; include the CEO/COO, legal, HR, IT, marketing, technology, content head and departments heads. Each person should understand the entire structure, strategy and plan of action to be followed for communications. Who has final approval for all “live” information? What is the chain of command in the event of a crisis? What parameters will govern the day to day operations? These are just a few of the questions to be decided upon.
2. Create a culture of communication. Begin with an overarching vision and from that, create a culture of communication that expresses the values of the company. What goals do you hope to achieve and how? What is the overall user experience designed to accomplish? What public persona is desired and why?
3. Get legal approval. More often than not, most small business owners fail to understand the full significance of their social media…while it may delay business acquisition or even result in lost sales, few things are more detrimental than failure to fully appreciate the legal significance. Among those that understand the potential for legal issues related to social media, the vast majority assume it is limited to copyright infringement…wrong! One of the most common social media issues to hit the court system involves Labor Relations! It is very important to understand what limits can/cannot be placed on employees pertaining to their posting on their own personal sites.
5. Abide by external regulations. Chances are, if your business is concerned with real estate, healthcare, pharmaceuticals or dozens of other industries there are a multitude of external regulatory bodies with direct oversight to your business. From the FDA to HIPAA, FIRPA to Fair Employment, make sure all communications conform with regulatory standards within your industry.
6. Create both internal and external standards. While most small business owners understand the need to have clear communication from within the company, it becomes a lot more fuzzy when the issue of what employees are allowed to say on their own time. A proper social media policy addresses both internal and external standards and expectations while abiding by current legal standards. Be sure to include business, clients and employees…not just staff!
7. Educate and inform everyone. Make sure everyone has a copy of the policy upon hire and update it on a regular basis. As a general rule of thumb, a policy prone to so much volatility should be updated more than once each year in order to assure everything is still relevant and within proper guidelines.