A brand’s exposure on social media can be a double-edged sword. On the positive side, businesses use social channels to build brand awareness, connect with their target audience, and acquire new customers. However, any misuse of the channels can severely dent the company’s image and reputation, thereby affecting its business potential.
Hence, a comprehensive social media policy with well-defined guidelines and best practices helps the business to protect and build its brand equity. Without a clear policy, you run multiple risks that can range from slight damage to your brand from posting out of touch content to being hit with a lawsuit for defamation.
6 Elements of a Good Social Media Policy
A social media policy is the code of conduct for your business and its internal stakeholders (your employees), for posting and interacting on social media. It’s a dynamic document with easy-to-understand guidelines, that responds to changes in the social environment.
The policy will protect your brand image and prevent disruptions to your social media marketing efforts. Let’s look at seven elements of a robust and comprehensive social media policy.
1. Social media profiles set professional and personal boundaries
A social media governance policy that demarcates the boundary between personal and professional use of social media, with clear do’s and don’ts when posting on the company’s behalf, can prevent a myriad of issues from damaging your brand.
Take the example of Avvo Corp, a Seattle-based online directory for lawyers and physicians. After hiring a slew of digital-savvy marketers, Avvo’s presence on social channels was boosted – however some of the content posted was unprofessional and reflected poorly on the firm.
While the brand was getting tons of exposure, the imaging and messaging driving said exposure was not aligned with the brand. That was the trigger point for Avvo to craft a clearly defined social media policy for its employees, with clear guidelines for tone and voice in addition to content.
2. Protect brand equity
Brand equity is how your customers view and value your brand. For a brand, its equity is its most prized asset, and brands will go to any length to protect their reputation. That means defining strict guidelines for your employees when posting on behalf of your company and brand on social channels.
Some points to include in your social media policy to protect your brand equity include:
- Draw a clear line on what is permissible and what is not. The rules would apply for both personal and professional posts.
- Limit the number of employees who can post from the company’s social media accounts.
- Train these employees on acceptable language that is in line with the brand identity.
- Use scheduling software to ensure your social media channels are automated – this way you can set up clear and easy to enforce workflows for edits and approvals.
- Frame policies and train employees when it comes to online etiquette and core company values.
While a lot of this may sound like common sense, sometimes it’s best to just spell things out.
3. Designate the official spokesperson
A robust social media policy defines who can post and interact on the social channels while using the company account. A spokesperson however, is someone who is approved to speak on behalf of the organization – i.e answer and field questions from the press. This distinction is important – social media policies define who can post on social channels, but they do not allow people posting social media content the ability to issue statements on behalf of the company.
Daniel Larsson, Head of Marketing at Right Inbox, recommends that brands designate an official spokesperson or spokespeople to reduce confusion or conflicting instruction. A good social media policy should outline the circumstances and types of content where social managers should refer to the designated spokesperson or communications team to gain clearance or direction.
This spokesperson should have the final say on what is appropriate to post and what isn’t.
4. Outline legal issues
It is important to sensitize and educate your employees about possible blowback from potential legal issues. Chris Boudreaux, a senior vice president at New York-based social-media consulting firm Converseon, cites the example of a New Jersey restaurant to validate this point.
The restaurant tripped up when its manager fired an employee who had posted derogatory remarks about the restaurant on their private social page. The manager had secretly gained access to the employee’s private page, without authorization. The employee sued the restaurant and received a five-figure settlement.
Protecting your organization from legal blowback is a complex, cross-functional process that without a doubt will involve social teams as content posted on branded pages always presents a potential liability for companies. Thus, a good social media policy should have at the bare minimum the clearance of a legal team, but ideally should be crafted with their input in mind.
5. Create guidelines for expressing views on social channels
The law mandates that anyone using social media for company-related activities must disclose their identity. The guidelines in your social media policy must clearly define the brand style so that all communications, be it voice, text, or visuals, are “on brand” in terms of both content and style.
However, sometimes the topic at hand may require the employee to share their opinion. In all such cases, the employee must preface their comment with the declaration, “this is my personal opinion”. In case of a conflict between brand opinion and the employee’s opinion, the employee should go with the brand opinion or refrain from commenting.
6. Train your employees
Employees empowered with the right training and tools can add value to their company’s marketing efforts. The employees can use social channels not just as a means to communicate information, but as a core part of an effective marketing and brand awareness strategy.
The following best practices are useful when training your employees:
- Weave social media into your culture. Be transparent about your policies, share success stories, and encourage participation.
- Start with the end in mind. Define your objectives. Are you looking to create brand ambassadors? Or do you want to create brand awareness and increase engagement with your audience? Clear goals will help in designing a relevant training program.
- Define employee roles. This is the “who will do what bit”. Who will focus on and be responsible for building awareness? Who will handle conversions? and who will handle the customer experience? A clear definition of roles will prevent overlap and improve accountability.
- Ensure employees are clear on policies. Make sure your policy is dynamic and is clearly understood by your employees.
Every new employee must receive social media training as part of their onboarding process.
Social Media Policy Examples
Now that you have an understanding of what the scope of a good social media policy should be and why it’s so important to have one in place, let’s go over some real examples from major brands:
Intel’s social media policy document immediately highlights three clear rules for employees to follow when posting on social channels:
- Disclose your relationship to Intel
- Protect Intel
- Use common sense when posting
These three practices are likely to be present in the social media guidelines for most brands. The rest of the document reviews more specific examples to help employees make the correct judgement calls in more subjective situations.
2. Best Buy
As a major retail brand with thousands of employees, Best Buy’s social media policy is a good example to look at for consumer facing brands with a significant retail presence, and thus a significant number of personal social media accounts owned by employees. Here are the immediately highlighted rules:
- Disclose your affiliation
- State that it’s YOUR opinion
- Act responsibly and ethically
- Honor our differences
Worth noting is the last point – specifically stating that employees who post content that demonstrate a lack of alignment with Best Buy’s values regarding discrimination and equality can be terminated.
Coca-Cola has one of the longer social media governance documents you’ll find for a brand. While the scope and thoroughness of the document is most definitely not lacking, the length of the document and lack of a concise initial summary of its contents could mean that employees or representatives don’t read or process the rules established by the policy. In comparison to Intel’s social media policy, Coke’s social governance document could be far more organized, and desperately needs an initial summary of guidelines.
A social media policy is not about putting undue restrictions on your employees, it’s about helping your brand succeed in the social media space.
The key is to keep your social media policy simple and easy to understand. The policy and its implementation enable your employees to properly represent your brand online.
With the right guidance and training, and a dynamic policy that evolves with time, you can empower employees to use social media responsibly and in a way that adds the most value and consistency to your brand.