Once the “oops” moment goes viral, trust me, there’s very little you can do about it. Has this happened to your company? Without a well-defined Social Media Policy, you are exposed to your own ‘oops’ moments sooner or later!
No doubt promoting via Social Media is a powerful asset for businesses trying to grow online and achieve results as part of their Digital Transformation goals. When used correctly, it can open floodgates to brand awareness, site visits, engagement and conversion. However, without well sought-out guidelines the same asset can turn into a heavy liability with serious legal implications.
Being a digital transformation strategist, I believe that businesses not only need to have a social media policy in place and must be reviewed at least every 12 months. This ensures that it is still relevant to the business given the evolving nature of the social media landscape. If the policy is not updated I recommend making changes to it accordingly.
Hence, when drafting a social media policy I advise businesses to consider everything from:
- What posts are acceptable and what’s not?
- How will the social media team handle a crisis?
- What will be the legal ramifications if something goes wrong?
- How the staff will handle their personal profiles?
- How will they communicate the intended brand image with the audience across all platforms?
So what exactly should be your social media POLICY? Here’s what I have come up with (Yes, in my usual way of using POLICY as an acronym):
Personal Vs Company Profile
When making a social media policy, you actually need to make two. One for the employees using social media to promote the company and the other for the company employees using social media in their personal lives. The first policy should focus on site-specific guidelines. This calls for defining:
- Who does what (roles and responsibilities)
- Establishing what they can or cannot do (branding guidelines and legal compliance with internal and external policies).
- Communicating why we are doing it (core brand values and company vision).
The second policy should address what information about the company the employees can share on their personal profiles. Sharing confidential information such as trade secrets and client information can cost you not just dollars in lengthy lawsuits but also puts your reputation at stake.
However, before you define the do’s and don’ts for your employees make sure to go through Guidelines on Social Media Policies developed by the law society of New South Wales legal technology committee. Australian based companies may find it useful.
Oversight by Company Owners
Social Media policies are not made to collect dust. The technological landscape is constantly evolving and business owners need to make sure their policies continue to protect the business as it grows.
In an earlier article I talked about social employee advocacy and why all publicity is not good publicity. Businesses need to have some level of control on what the employees share online. Policies that are defined too broadly fail to guide the employees on how to use Social Media respectfully; let alone acting as brand ambassadors.
However, these policies must not be so sweeping either that they attempt to prohibit the activities that are permitted by the labour laws in your own country.
In general, company owners need to make sure that they have a policy on:
- Posting negative comments about employers, the firm and fellow employees.
- Holding employees responsible for defamation or issuing misleading statements.
- Invasion of privacy of other employees or violation of copy rights.
Learn From Others
Good and bad examples from social media policies of others can be a great starting point in designing your own.
Adidas: One of the biggest sports apparel manufacturers allows its employees to associate themselves with the company when posting. However, they must label their posts as purely their own. The company cannot be held liable for any repercussion what so ever.
Bestbuy: The multinational consumer electronics company strictly prohibits discriminating and dishonourable content sharing. Also they have a firm policy on not disclosing any information that’s financial, operational, legal or client related.
Ford: The auto manufacturer has a simple take on social media. Use common sense. Beware of privacy issues. Play nice and be honest. Good enough as long as common sense is common.
L.A.Times: This premier print media publication company puts authenticity and integrity of their content at the top.
Wal-Mart: This multi-national retail company wants its employees to talk only about Wal-mart and not engage in unnecessary banter.
While these are all examples of good Social Media policies, instances when you don’t have the right policy in place can be found in abundance.
Take the example of a StubHub employee who referred to their workplace as a “stubsucking hell”. The company later apologised but never clarified whether it was a mistake or a disgruntled employee.
What about the employees from Domino’s Pizza who thought it would be funny to post a video on YouTube of the disgusting acts they performed while preparing food? Domino eventually fired the duo and brought up felony charges against them. Unfortunately, the damage was done.
Impact to Your Business
Social media policy or the lack of it, can impact your business in more ways than you can imagine.
Social Media expert Aliah Wright explains in her book: “Even if their company has no social media presence, their employees may be creating one by virtue of their actions online.”
Consider the case of TGI Fridays who launched a fake Facebook page under the name of Woody, their number 1 fan. The company promised to offer a free hamburger if Woody could get 500,000 fans until September, 2009. When the target was achieved, the page was deleted and fans abandoned.
This example highlights the importance of ethics in Social Media. Hence it’s important to communicate the Social Media Policy across the organisation, not just the Social Media team. What happens online is a reflection of the company culture. Wrong tactics applied to strengthen the brand can actually back fire and result in possible law suites and loss of revenue.
Challenges Facing Business Owners
Of course you want your employees to be transparent and honest while representing you over Social Media. But that doesn’t mean that they can share the recipe for KFC’s spicy Zinger or the formula for Pepsi’s concentrated syrup.
Sharing internal documents and confidential information is just one of the several challenges that business owners face when making employees the ears, eyes and most importantly the voice of their brand.
What about employees that left? Or worse, the ones you fired? Isn’t your reputation still at stake due to an inappropriate comment coming from a former employee? What about the whistle-blowers? Well that’s kind of a good thing, but not necessarily in the best interest of the company. What about copy rights infringement or putting the blame on the customers?
Without a proper policy in place to hold people accountable for their actions, your employees can be more of a liability than an asset.
Your Company Policy
All policies must address the ultimate goal. Ask yourself what’s in it for the users of this policy? Most policies that I come across usually highlight what the employees can’t do. Business owners must remember that Social Media is about leveraging the positives. Be it for your brand, your customers or your employees! Your employees are more likely to adhere to the guidelines when they feel empowered and not unnecessarily restricted.
Chad Houghton, the director of e-media and business development at the Society for Human Resource Management agrees. “The old way of doing things is to create an unnecessarily restrictive model of engagement that prevents companies from leveraging new media appropriately,” he says.
Make sure the people interacting with the customers on behalf of the company have knowledge of legal implications of irresponsible posting. This includes defamation, infringements of intellectual property rights and wrongful disclosures. Also they must know when and how they can endorse the brand and what actions they can take during a crisis.
Finally, they must adopt a positive tone, be helpful and transparent, and add value to the overall customer experience and to the overall brand image.
Still don’t have a Social Media policy as part of your Digital Transformation Strategy? Let the experts make it for you. It is a well worth spent as it can cause an unaccountable amount of financial impact to business!
My team and I at solomoIT can help you craft a Social Media policy that is in line with your Digital Transformation Strategies for your business. Contact us for more details.
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