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How to navigate the social media policy minefield

Social media is irreversibly woven into our daily lives. It is changing how businesses communicate with, retain and attract consumers. But given the public nature of social platforms, it’s important to establish boundaries in the form of a social media policy.

Code of conduct

So where should you begin? A miniature version of your company’s code of conduct is a good starting point. It will outline employee rights and the expectations you have in terms of their behaviour on social media. This could mean restricting the use of bad language and staying away from controversial topics.

Without such guidelines, personal opinion could take over. And we all know how quickly a Twitter storm can damage an established brand’s reputation and negatively impact a company’s bottom line.

As Scott Beaman of law firm Slater Heelis sums up: “There is a tendency for social media platforms to be a reactionary environment in which flippant comments are made. Add to this concoction the blistering pace at which news travels on the web and it’s not hard to see why barely a week appears to go by without some form of social media scandal reaching the headlines.”

Freedom of expression

When a social media policy is implemented well, it gives employees more insight into your brand’s personality. Take the opportunity to flesh out your persona or ‘voice’, rather than listing numerous social media don’ts. It’s easy to slip into a cautionary mindset. But you risk being too strict and limiting your employees’ freedom of speech.

Employees often expect forward-thinking companies to allow them to openly express their opinions. So if you hand over a social media policy that is stuffed with words like ‘inappropriate’, ‘disrespectful’ and ‘disparaging’, beware. You could inadvertently end up with a low morale problem among your team – or even rebellion.

Being too vague about terms – don’t be ‘unprofessional’, for example – can create confusion too. After all, there are many ways interpret to such a word.

Get creative

A social media policy can work well when employees are given the opportunity to go on instinct. Asking them to seek approval for tweets, for example, could mean your business is late to act.

There’s a famous Oreo tweet that reflects this sentiment perfectly. When the power went out in the Superdome during a showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, an Oreo executive seized on the opportunity, and made the most of the 34 minute hiatus in play with the following post: “Power out? No problem,” alongside an image of an ad showing an Oreo and the tag line, “You can still dunk in the dark.” Cue thousands of retweets.

Oreo’s flexible policy enabled its employees to get creative on the spot and harness the power of social media. You lose spontaneity when a social media policy is too focused on what could potentially go wrong.

Got to be real

Balancing freedom of speech with clear guidelines needn’t be a hard exercise. One of the best examples of social media marketing done well is Ford. The company was established in 1903 and has managed to remain relevant and engaging through the decades.

According to one of its former social media gurus, Scott Monty, each of Ford’s 11 social media guidelines are brief and to the point. Be “honest about who you are”, speak for yourself “but let your actions represent those of Ford”, use your common sense, “play nice”, “the Internet remembers (Whatever stays in Vegas… stays on Google)” and when in doubt, ask.

This is similar to the policy of Zappos, the online shoe and clothing brand: “Be real and use your best judgement”. Such policies have enabled employees to become brand ambassadors. Their relative leniency has also allowed staff members to reply more quickly and in a much more authentic way.

Your social media policy

So if your employees take one thing from your social policy what should it be? To listen before they push, think before they act, and then reply accordingly. Social media has become an integral part of company culture, and a clear social policy will empower your employees when they are responding or posting content online.

If your culture encourages professionalism, you’ve made the right hires and you foster positive working relationships with your staff, additional leeway will only lead to social media success.

Could you use a helping hand with your social media presence? Whether you’re keen to devise a social media strategy, develop your online brand personality, or need help promoting your content on social media, you’ve come to the right place. Contact us for an informal chat.

Caspian Media is a content marketing agency and owner of SME brands Real BusinessReal Deals and Business Advice.

By Shané Schutte, Deputy Editor Real Business