6 Tips for a Strong Internal Social Media Policy
By: Lucy Kaplan
January 22, 2020
The start of a new year means lots of work for marketers, from quarterly planning to finalizing projects started at the end of last year. Integrated sales and marketing budgets are close to finalized, monthly sales promotions are agreed upon and you’re putting the finishing touches on your marketing plans for the year. All set, right? Not so fast! A key component of business planning that many companies still gloss over (or—gasp!—don’t even think about) is putting an internal social media policy in writing.
Smart marketers know that getting buy-in from executives on social media is paramount to a brand’s success. They also know that most employees have social media profiles, and that at some point, they will post about their job. Estimates from AdWeek found that 47 percent of employees will use social networks at some point to connect with customers. However, according to Pew Research Center, 73 percent of companies don’t have an official social media policy. Those are the same companies that scramble to develop one on-the-fly in response to a PR disaster.
Still, every employee at a brand has a story to tell, and the growth of a brand’s social media pages isn’t achieved by a social media manager alone. Growth emerges when employees help to strengthen brand voice. However, the more people that have a hand in something, the higher the chances something will go wrong. Allowing your staff to post whatever they want without any guidelines opens you up to risk.
An employee might post something seemingly innocuous that another person finds offensive. Brands run the risk of muddying their image and facing damaged reputations—or worse, legal suits. But you can minimize these risks by making a social media policy available for all employees.
Simply put, your brand’s social media policy is a list of instructions outlining how your company positions itself online. This policy not only protects your brand, but it also helps employees feel like they are a part of the larger team; you’re not telling them to “stay outta our social!” Instead, you are giving them the resources they need to post responsibly.
We can’t tell you exactly what needs to be in your written social media policy. Businesses and industries vary greatly. The regulations that govern a hospital’s digital communications will be completely different than the social media rules used by a company that markets video games to kids. The point is to provide your employees with simple and effective guidelines that are easy to access and follow. These guidelines aren’t meant to be a “set it and forget it,” though—they will change as your industry changes. With any new regulations, you will need to update your policy.
Here are some tips for developing a strong corporate social media policy.
Set clear goals. Look at your company’s mission statement. Clearly establish what you are hoping to accomplish via social media. This will set the tone for how employees should use social media as it relates to your company.
Set limits on who can use branded accounts. Just because employees have the logins to your social media pages doesn’t mean they should be able to post at will. A major piece of your company’s social media policy is establishing who can and cannot speak as your company on social media. You need to decide which employees can create, maintain, delete and post to official company accounts.
Make sure the policy includes guidelines and standards for posting content. Some questions to keep in mind as you decide who will get the highest clearance:
- Which department should handle social?
- Do you have a dedicated social media manager? Does that person have a team that works with them?
- Are there times when the person posting to social will need to get approval prior to posting?
- Who will design posts, to keep consistency in both tone of voice and imagery?
- How should the social team respond to messages and complaints?
- Will you remove posts or comments, and under what circumstances?
- Who is in charge of social media strategy and management during a PR crisis?
Don’t discourage posts. No one knows the company better than the people that work there. And when you post a blog or an offer, the more people that share it, the more eyeballs you will get on that particular post.
You don’t want your policy to scare people off from sharing. Employee advocacy goes a long way. A social media policy shouldn’t be full of restrictions; instead, it should include examples of the types of messages you do want your staff to share. Everyone has the right to free speech and ultimately, people can post whatever they want on their personal social media pages. Just encourage them to be responsible and professional, and keep in mind that including “views here are not those of my company” in a bio means very little. Many social media users (and journalists) will make the connection between the brand and its employees, even when they’re not posting on company pages.
Any time your company receives a top press placement, encourage everyone to post. The same goes for videos and photos that offer a glimpse into your company culture. Posts that highlight your brand as a thought leader in your specific industry are also great for sharing.
Be aware of prohibited behavior. Do a bit of research and make certain that your policy is compliant with industry laws and regulations. On social, this is especially important for marketers that work in the tobacco or alcohol industries (not to mention pharmaceutical, healthcare, legal and financial sectors).
You will also want to ban any posts with:
- Plagiarized content
- Offensive imagery
- Photos you do not have the rights to use, including any content that could raise privacy concerns
- Inappropriate jokes
Lay out what needs to be kept confidential. Let employees know that they cannot post about company performance, salaries and any unannounced upcoming company sales and business plans. It’s always safest to have things in writing when it comes to protecting your brand and its proprietary information. That includes not disclosing any private or confidential information about the clients your company serves, as well as vendors you work with.
Enforce the policy. Your internal social media policy will describe how you plan to monitor employees’ social media pages, and what will happen if they break one of these guidelines. For example, “violation of this policy can result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination.” At the end of this policy, include a page that you and each employee will sign, acknowledging that they have received the policy document, gone through it with you and fully understand it.
Try to keep your company social media policy simple and easy to understand. You’ll want to provide your workforce with all of the resources and guidelines to properly represent your brand online. With the right guidance and the flexibility to adjust the policy as necessary, you empower employees to use social media responsibly—and to your brand’s benefit.
An earlier version of this article was published in What’s Shakin’ in Jan. 2019.