Social media is in it’s best form social. That of course means it leans heavily on the individual. As such social media guidelines should be used as a guide and not a policy. This will allow people to participate in social media in a smart way by being educated rather than being told what they can or can not do.
And yes, though there are some negatives to social media, employees participating can be very powerful to extend the reach of your organization. Remember – most employees have the common sense to participate properly, so being a helping hand to them will encourage them to be more vocal about your organization.
First Step – Conduct and Use
Begin with a set of possibilities first (increasing awareness, improving customer service, gaining customer insight and so on) then draw up a list of worst-case scenarios (bad mouthing the company, inappropriate language, leaking IP, to name a few). Modify the guiding principles for your employees below to help mitigate the risks you’ve identified.
Encourage responsible use
Encourage employees to use social tools to engage and interact with one another and with your alumni. In all likelihood staff has been already using social media. The difference is that currently they are using these tools without any guidance.
Grant equal access
Don’t block your employees from any site where you want your organization to be or where there is already unofficial presence for your organization.
The social Web is a cultural phenomenon; don’t go there without a guide. Consider providing some form of education for your employees (including discussion about what tools are available, how to use them and what are the prevailing cultural norms for use). You can use one of your own employees (a power user) or bring someone in–but get educated.
The KISS approach
PostNL in the Netherlands (formerly TNT) created a great approach. Rather than saying “no,” the legal and HR staffs, communicators, and management have created a “yes” culture. This guide is clean and simple and. more notably, available to anyone on the public web by searching Social guidelines in the search bar on the site.
Guiding the Manager
Once you embrace having your employees participate in the social Web, give them a few basic guiding principles in how they conduct themselves when representing your brand.
When managing a presence – be it Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, make sure that the duty is not assigned to junior people or to interns who are not well placed or experienced represent your culture and brand. Think of who you would be comfortable representing you at a public function. The social media manager should be able to speak without micromanagement in public – be it in person or online.
Spending hoards of time on Facebook, does not a social media manager make.
That said, the manager should have some guidelines to help them be effective at driving interaction and address issues. Each comment should be addressed, though not answered. This means deciding it the comment needs to be left, answered right away, commented that you will have more info to share or decide who in the organization will craft the message.
Social media will not wait, but you can delay. Is there a good reason for you to join the conversation? If you need to answer something – just let them know you need time.
Here are some guidelines when managing a brand presence:
Say who you are
In responding to any work-related social media activities always disclose your work relationship
Show your personality
Be conversational while remaining professional. If your personal life is one that you (or your employer) don’t want to mix up with your work, then consider establishing both private and public profiles, with appropriate sharing settings.
Respond to ideas not to people
In the context of business, always argue over ideas not personalities. Don’t question motives but stay focused on the merit of ideas.
If you respond to a problem, you own it
If you become the point of contact for a customer or employee complaint, stay with it until it is resolved.
Know your facts and cite your sources
When making claims, always refer to your sources, using hyperlinks when possible. Always give proper attribution (by link-backs, public mentions, re-tweets and so on).
Stay on the record
Everything you say can (and likely will) be used in the court of public opinion–forever. So assume you’re “on the record.” Never say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face and in the presence of others. Never use profanity or demeaning language.
Lead by Example
Rules aren’t enough. Leaders should model the behavior they would like to see their employees take.
It is not about productivity
Employees will check Facebook at work, regardless of your access policies. Today’s smart phones allow constant contact. If they check Facebook at work, they probably check work email on their own time. Don’t ask them to give up the former if you expect them to continue the latter.
What others are doing
Some do a really good job of explaining the possibilities and reasons why employees/members of the organization would want to participate; while at the same time presenting guidelines to “keep them and the company safe”.
Others are simply a liability control device; clearly delineate what the organization is responsible for (little) and what the individual needs to look out (lots).
More draconian (though understandable where security matters are concerned) are simply control devices – the “don’t do it on our dime” and “don’t speak about work, we have official channels for that” approach.
Mostly the ones who do get it right follow these points:
- Treat others as you would like to be treated.
- Add value to your consumers, your industry, and your business.
- Be respectful, professional, and courteous.
- Provide insight, expertise, and relevant conversation.
- Communicate ethically and morally in support of your professional goals.
Possible Guideline Template
These guidelines apply to COMPANY_NAME employees or contractors who create or contribute to blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds, or any other kind of Social Media. Whether you log into Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, Google+ or Facebook pages, or comment on online media stories — these guidelines are for you.
While all COMPANY_NAME employees are welcome to participate in Social Media, we expect everyone who participates in online commentary to understand and to follow these simple but important guidelines. These rules might sound strict and contain a bit of legal-sounding jargon but please keep in mind that our overall goal is simple: to participate online in a respectful, relevant way that protects our reputation and of course follows the letter and spirit of the law.
- Be transparent and state that you work at COMPANY_NAME. Your honesty will be noted in the Social Media environment. If you are writing about COMPANY_NAME, use your real name, identify that you work for COMPANY_NAME, and be clear about your role. If you have a vested interest in what you are discussing, be the first to say so.
- Never represent yourself or COMPANY_NAME in a false or misleading way. All statements must be true and not misleading; all claims must be substantiated.
- Post meaningful, respectful comments — in other words, please, no spam and no remarks that are off-topic or offensive.
- Use common sense and common courtesy: for example, it’s best to ask permission to publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to COMPANY_NAME. Make sure your efforts to be transparent don’t violate COMPANY_NAME’s privacy, confidentiality, and legal guidelines for external commercial speech.
- Stick to your area of expertise and do feel free to provide unique, individual perspectives on non-confidential activities at COMPANY_NAME.
- When disagreeing with others’ opinions, keep it appropriate and polite. If you find yourself in a situation online that looks as if it’s becoming antagonistic, do not get overly defensive and do not disengage from the conversation abruptly: feel free to ask the public relations for advice and/or to disengage from the dialogue in a polite manner that reflects well on COMPANY_NAME.
- If you want to write about the competition, make sure you behave diplomatically, have the facts straight and that you have the appropriate permissions.
- Please never comment on anything related to legal matters, litigation, or any parties COMPANY_NAME may be in litigation with.
- Never participate in Social Media when the topic being discussed may be considered a crisis situation. Even anonymous comments may be traced back to your or COMPANY_NAME’s IP address. Refer all Social Media activity around crisis topics to PR and/or Legal Affairs.
- Be smart about protecting yourself, your privacy, and COMPANY_NAME’s confidential information. What you publish is widely accessible and will be around for a long time, so consider the content carefully. The Internet never forgets.
- NOTE: Mainstream media inquiries must be referred to (the proper media relations channel).