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The Complete Guide to Developing a Social Media Policy for Your Business
Posted on July 18th 2013
Many things can go wrong for your business on social media.
Especially when OTHER people are managing your accounts.
They could say something offensive, post something that is out of line with your brand, or fail to handle a customer complaint with professional tact. Any of these mistakes could blow up into a full-scale social media crisis.
So if you don’t want someone else to mess up your online marketing efforts, what can you do?
Develop a social media policy.
Here’s Why Your Business Needs Social Media Policy
Without a social media policy, you run the risk of under-performing your online marketing potential — even if you manage to avoid a crisis. Social media policies prevent bad things from happening, but they also focus your efforts for maximum effectiveness, allowing more good things to happen.
When staff are afraid of doing something wrong, they are too scared to act at all. Instead, we can design our policy to empower them to take action and make the right decisions when representing our brands online.
You must have a social media policy in place anytime someone else can access your online presence. This includes staff members, agencies, and outsourcing.
However, even if you’re the only person managing your social media, I still recommend you read on. I have run many accounts and developing clear policies has helped me reach my goals — it can do the same for you. Besides, this way you’ll have it ready when you do need more help.
Great social media policies are maps that chart the course for success. [Tweet this]
So, how do you go about creating an effective social media policy?
What To Do Before You Write Your Social Media Policy
1. Figure out your strategic plan.
Before jumping into social media, it’s important to work through your strategic plan — it will help you figure out what you’re doing and why. Clearly outline your target market, business goals (especially as they pertain to social media), sales funnel, and unique selling proposition. This information will play an important role in your social media policy. If you need help with this, contact me.
2. Consider your company culture.
Your company culture should be well represented online. Instead of copying a generic policy, customize it to your business. Your staff will be happier and your social marketing efforts will be more effective when they’re in line with your brand’s culture.
For example, is transparency part of your culture? (It is for the Liberty Village Brewing Company). That and any other points of emphasis should be clearly reflected in your policy.
3. Identify past successes and failures.
If you already have an online presence for your business, take the time to contemplate past successes and failures. Becoming aware of these will help identify important information and ideas that should be included in your policy.
4. Consult your team.
Whether your employees help out with social media or not, they should be included in the process. They may have ideas about your business that you haven’t thought of and their input will be invaluable.
By involving your team in the development of a social media policy, they are much more likely to embrace it and take ownership of it.
Here’s What To Include In Your Social Media Policy
1. Mission Statement
A mission statement can be as important as a business plan. It captures, in a few sentences, the essence of your goals and the philosophies behind them. The mission statement signals what your business is all about to your customers, employees, suppliers and broader community. The mission statement reflects every facet of a business so it should be included in your social media policy too.
2. Social Media Goals
What are your goals with social media? If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know how to get there. Include information like a target market and clearly lay out how social media fits into your sales funnel. Be very specific. Do you want to increase brand awareness or drive more email subscriptions? Are you looking to build deep relationships with your audience, or is there a reason why your company should keep a distance?
3. Style Guide
Style guides are common for publishing and media companies. But the truth is, they are very useful to any organization.
A style guide is a document that sets standards for writing within your organization. The focus of the style guide is not grammar or syntax but providing clear and consistent standards for action when representing the brand.
Style guides ensure that multiple authors speak with a single voice. And they help save time and resources by providing an instant answer when questions arise about preferred style.
If you don’t already have a style guide, include one in your social media policy.
4. Roles and Responsibilities
It’s very important to define roles and responsibilities. Everyone involved with your social marketing needs to know who is doing what – especially if multiple people will be actively managing the same accounts. If you have different people working on social media, SEO, and marketing strategy, you need to make sure they are complementing each other. Will they be following a content calendar? If so, who is responsible for developing it? Who is responsible for measuring success and who do they report to?
[If you need to track multiple users on your social media accounts, Sprout Social will come in handy. It records who did what, shows past interactions, provides a shared content calendar, and makes it easy to assign tasks to specific people so things don't get overlooked. Using a third-party tool like Sprout Social also limits the number of people who have access to your passwords.]
5. External Regulations
Some industries are more regulated than others. For example, if you work in alcohol, finance, or another highly regulated field, it’s likely you will have specific considerations online. But every business should be aware of outside regulations when compiling a social media policy.
Rules around copyright, disclosures, and image sourcing can lead to disasters if your team doesn’t know what is and isn’t allowed.
Make sure you’re well versed in the laws governing your industry and include all pertinent information in your company’s policy.
6. Appropriate Actions
You can’t predict every interaction you’ll have on social media — and trust me, some of them will be weird — but almost every interaction fits into one of a few categories. Scenarios include general praise, customer complaints, and troll attacks – you’ll likely see all them more than once. Response time, appropriate channels, and approach are all important details.
Lay out ideal courses of action for each category so you and your staff know exactly what to do. Figuring this out ahead of time helps employees act efficiently and effectively, and it limits the toll that emotions can take in strained situations. H&R Block’s Response Process is a useful example.
Help your team out even more by giving them a budget for resolving issues. Also let them know who should be contacted for further information, and who is responsible for making sure things are taken care of.
The point is to empower your staff, and yourself, by planning ahead.
7. Best Practices
What are your company’s established best practices online? This section will develop over time. Include any important insights you have learned along the way.
If you have multiple users do you prefer them to sign off on social media postings? Can staff add a personal touch or should they keep it professional? What type of content always gets results? This section will become more and more valuable as you learn from prior experience.
Rules for Writing Your Social Media Policy
1. Be Specific
It’s important that you get specific. Otherwise, information can be misunderstood, making it harder to implement. Yes, social networks change all the time, but that’s not an excuse for being lazy with details.
Some businesses will need to update their policy every three months as they keep up with high growth and rapid change, while others can stretch it to six months or a year. Be sure to review and update your policy at least annually.
2. Write In A Friendly Tone
Social media policies are meant to be read by real people — so write for real people. There’s no reason for it to feel verbose and unfriendly. You should be clear and succinct with an easy-to-understand, approachable tone. Multinational corporations can keep their policy to two pages, so you can too. Your employees will thank you. And they’ll be much more likely to actually read it!
3. Consult a Lawyer
This may not always be necessary, but depending on your industry and the size of your business, you may want to have a lawyer look over your policy to make there are no problems. They can make sure you’re protected legally in the event that something goes wrong, and they can also ensure you’ve got all the industry regulations correct before you pass them on to your employees.
What About Employees’ Personal Accounts on Social Media?
Some people wonder if they should include a section in their social media policy about employees’ personal social media activity. The short answer is, stay out of it. You really can’t tell your employees what not to say, but you especially can’t tell them what they should say.
If there are things you don’t want your employees discussing online, they probably shouldn’t be discussing them anywhere. In that case, you should have them sign a confidentiality agreement or a non-disclosure agreement. Online conversation, like any other conversation, should be covered in those documents.
You may want to point out that individuals cannot speak on behalf of the company without authorization (duh!), and that if they engage in unsavoury behaviour online, such as bullying, you will no longer be interested in employing them.
If you work in a highly regulated industry, you may also want to do your employees a favour and give them guidelines on the regulations that will affect their personal social media life.
The best option is to hire great people who are passionate about your message and will become excellent brand ambassadors by default. If they’re not excited to come to work and talk about what they’re doing in a positive light, are they really the right fit for your company?
In general, monitor your brand online. If an employee, or anyone else, is talking about you online, you should know about it so that you can deal with any issues that arise.
Examples of Great Social Media Policies
1. Social Media Guidelines for AP Employees | Associated Press
This policy by the Associated Press is a great example of how to outline potential issues. It includes instructions on how to deal with corrections, deleting tweets, and sourcing issues.
2. Online Social Media Principles | The Coca Cola Company
These principles by Coca Cola do a great job of incorporating the corporate culture into the ideas that are covered. In fact, the company lists their guiding values first, before elaborating on how to implement them.
3. Style and Usage Guide of Social Networks | The Government of Catalonia
This document by the Government of Catalonia is a great example of how to get specific. They have clearly laid out exactly which networks are being used, how they should be used, and why.
Social media policies are not one-size-fits-all. [Tweet this]
Customizing a policy for your organization will reinforce the company’s existing culture and provide practical guidelines to help you be successful with social media. And that’s something we can all use!
Does your company have a social media policy? Let me know in the comments below.
And if you know someone who could use this guide, you’d be doing me a huge favor by sharing it with them.