Thanks to the digital revolution, social media has now permeated every aspect of small, medium, and large businesses, especially with 52% of consumers acknowledging that platforms like Facebook influence their online/offline purchasing decisions. From a marketing standpoint, 80% of businesses worldwide use more than one social media platform to generate leads (61%), improve search rankings (58%), develop enterprise partnerships (54%), reduce offline advertising expenses (47%), increase sales (43%), and gather marketplace insight. However, the precise nature of the ever-evolving social media usage by a company’s employees is not only rife with uncertainty, but also poses significant risk assessment challenges.

In their 2013 Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey Report, Protiviti, a management consulting company found that a staggering 73% of organizations don’t have a social media policy in place for their employees.  As a business, not educating your employees on social media use, both enterprise and commercial, poses an inherent risk to your brand image and public persona.

What is a Social Media Policy?

According to SproutSocial, “A social media policy is a code of conduct that provides guidelines for employees who post content online either as part of their job description or personal brand.”

With employee advocacy being a priority, a social media policy ensures that everyone from the CEO to the Quality Control intern can make an informed decision while representing your business online, using the ‘communication guide’ as a reference.

While a social media policy is unique to every company, there are certain universal components that specify prohibitions against:

  • Sharing proprietary company information, like customers details.
  • Posting provocative, derogatory, slanderous or inflammatory content.
  • Posting identifiable information (including text, pictures or videos) implying involvement in illegal behavior.

Apart from the standard items mentioned above, you should also consider including the following when drafting a social media policy for your company:

  1. Crisis Management:

In 2017, Adidas sent a ‘Congratulations, you survived the Bostom Marathon’ email to all the finishers, which was met with immediate backlash from the community. As the 121st annual race sponsor, the brand was deemed ‘insensitive’ for making light of the infamous bombing incident of 2013 that claimed lives of 3 people and injured several hundred people.

When things go wrong, for instance, the aforementioned Adidas debacle, having a ‘how-to’ guide that your employees can refer to during a social media crisis encourages transparency, reduces reaction time, and helps them understand how to respond effectively. Most organizations have a team of appropriately-trained PR professionals, social media managers, and community supervisors to take over, in case an inevitable crisis situation arises. Therefore, to eliminate uncertainty, your social media policy should highlight standard employee procedures with emphasis on who is in charge of what, in an event of distasteful tweets, website hacks, product recalls or other social media fiascos.  

Start by outlining specific roles and responsibilities for crisis management that will be assigned to employees, for example, message approval, customer service, security concerns, social engagement, legal ramifications, and staff training.

  1. Potential compliance and legal risks:

Depending on your location and the industry you’re in, there are governing principles or regulatory bodies that your daily operations should be in compliance with. For example, the federal government and healthcare employees are expected to uphold strong regulatory challenges when it comes to social media engagement. Not only this, your employees should also adhere to adhere to general laws related to data protection, financial reporting, copyright infringement, and so on, to stay in the community’s good books.

For employees responsible for handling branded social media profiles, there should be separate documents that not only stipulate the rules and regulations they should abide by, but also the legal and regulatory ramifications repercussions they might face in the absence of compliance.

As far as this particular topic goes, your social media policy should cover the following items:

  • Employee disclaimers: Since your employees are officially the face of your brand, you might want to take into consideration how they portray themselves online. For instance, some employees have separate Facebook accounts or Twitter handles that they use strictly for business-related communication, while others don’t mind using their personal accounts for pretty much everything, in which case they should explicitly state that they are affiliated with your company.

    Your social media policy should serve as a reminder for employees to never imply or claim to speak on behalf of your company unless stated otherwise. You can also encourage them to add a disclaimer on their personal social media profiles, that helps their followers interpret the difference between a general individual opinion and an official company statement.

  • Nondisclosure plan: Details of your upcoming rebranding announcement or product launch should be clearly recognized as a non-sharable and confidential information that your employees should be expected keep under the wraps at all times.

  • Brand endorsements: Engaging with user-generated content, by liking, commenting, or sharing, is a great way to connect with your followers and encourage conversation. 76% of Instagram users admitted to publishing more content on receiving a fair bit of attention on the platform, whereas 65% agreed to feeling flattered and validated when a brand engages with their post. That being said, as a business, clearly defining the rules concerning brand endorsements in your social media policy is of crucial importance.

    Your employees should be aware of the organizations, people, services, and products that your brand endorses or partners with. In absence of any endorsements, employees should be specially instructed to steer clear of implying an endorsement on both official and personal profile. 
  • Crediting sources: When dealing with curated content, where you repost or borrow content (for example, a video or an image) from an external source, your social media policy should specify how your employees should attribute the original source of the content.
  1. Privacy measures:

In the era of ‘the internet never forgets’, published content is readily discoverable and should be a cue for your employees to think before making a post or comment online, and being smart about protecting themselves from potential doxing attempts. Your social media policy should:

  • Encourage your employees to use secure passwords, for both personal and company social media accounts, avoiding public computers for logging in, and using customized privacy settings to their advantage.
  • If any of your employees’ accounts compromised, they should be aware of the next steps, and the concerned person to approach in order to minimize the damage.

When drafting your social media policy, make sure you’re mindful of the language and tone you’re using to get your point across. Avoid using more legal jargon than necessary, as it might confuse some employees and deter others from reading it in the first place. Use bullet points and other formatting tools to drive attention to the critical elements. For example, take a look at the social media policy of Nordstrom, that does an excellent job of conveying empowering, yet, concise set of procedures for their employees to follow.

Remember, social media policy should be easy for everyone to understand, adopt and come back to, if and when the need arises. Therefore, it’s best to move the focus away from what your employees cannot do and design your policy around what they can do.