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Your Social Media Policy: Guidelines for Your Guidelines

So we’ve seen the social media policy set forth by the IOC for the 2012 Olympic games, and it’s safe to say that the majority of us agree that it’s too restrictive and thus, counter-productive.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to review what the whole goal and point of a social media policy is for any brand – because yes, it is quite an important element to your social media marketing campaign – and to take the opportunity to review the IOC’s policy, elaborating on what they could have done differently, benefitting them, the games, the athletes and their fans.

The goal of a social media policy

  • To identify the purpose of social media for your brand
  • To keep your company’s social media marketing efforts consistent, no matter how many members of your team are actively representing your brand online
  • To keep in-line with your brand’s voice, visual identity, goals and objectives

What a social media policy should NOT be

Too restrictive
Social media is about creativity, connectivity and humanizing your brand. Your social media policy should guide your employees and representatives in the right direction without restricting them or limiting the opportunities that social media presents to your company or organization.

When a social media policy is too restrictive it becomes self-conflicting and confusing, which in turn becomes counter-productive. The more simple and clear your policy, the easier it is to understand, follow and for your employees to know exactly what is expected of them.

A great example of this is, of course, is the IOC’s social media policy. Let’s take a look:

The IOC’s rule:

“The IOC encourages participants and other accredited persons to post comments on social media platforms or websites and tweet during the Olympic Games, and it is entirely acceptable for a participant or any other accredited person to do a personal posting, blog or tweet. However, any such postings, blogs or tweets must be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist – i.e. they must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons, or disclose any information which is confidential or private in relation to any other person or organisation. A tweet is regarded in this respect as a short blog and the same guidelines are in effect, again, in first-person, diary-type format.”

This paragraph risks creating much confusion. For example: What happens if an Athlete’s fan tweets directly to said athlete commenting on, or wanting to discuss the performance of either this athlete or another? Is the athlete not allowed to respond to their fan and embark on a friendly discussion with them? Where is the line drawn between a personal tweet and a journalist-type tweet, and what are the repercussions?

You see, when a social media policy is too restrictive, the lines become blurred and unclear, and the whole policy becomes counter-productive, confusing and extremely limiting.

What the IOC should have focused on within their policy

The advertisement issue
One of the IOC’s biggest fears is that social media will provoke a conflict between them and their official sponsors who pay millions and even billions of dollars to gain exclusive advertisement space on all things Olympic related.

Within their social media policy they should have outlined clear guidelines for the participants stating that they are not permitted to advertise with or for any other non-sponsor brand. They currently do this well (see below), though they would have been wise and more clearly understood had they kept it simply to the following:

“Participants and other accredited persons are not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a posting, blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platforms or on any websites. Participants and other accredited persons must not enter into any exclusive commercial agreement with any company with respect to their postings, blogs or tweets on any social media platforms or on any websites, unless they have obtained the prior written approval of their relevant NOC.

Sponsorship around any Olympic content (including, without limitation, any features, results and still pictures) is not permitted, unless authorised by the IOC.

In accordance with Rule 40 (formerly 41) of the Olympic Charter, no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes except as permitted bythe IOC Executive Board.”

Non-discriminatory posts/tweets
This is an extremely important element to include within any social media policy and the IOC did this well within their current “guidelines”:

“Postings, blogs and tweets should at all times conform to the Olympic spirit and fundamental principles of Olympism as contained in the Olympic Charter, be dignified and in good taste, and not contain vulgar or obscene words or images.”

A social media crisis policy
Instead of restricting the participants and their fans, the IOC should have divided their time between putting together a helpful social media policy and a social media crisis policy for themselves, behind the scenes. They obviously contemplated the risk social media presents to them and the games while developing their current policy, but instead of restricting the participants, they should have focused on simply guiding them in the right direction – trusting them to be responsible adults and to make the right decisions – meanwhile protecting themselves with a strategic plan of action (a social media crisis policy and plan), in case their fears materialized.

The bottom line

Out of fear and a lack of true understanding of social media, the IOC has limited themselves, the games as a whole and the athletes with their current social media policy. Had they created a policy that focused on guiding the participants in the right direction, and created a social media crisis policy and plan to prevent and prepare themselves for the potential risk involved, it would have been in everybody’s better interest (including their own), and would have prevented all of the disappointment and online discussions that have come from their lack of better judgement and planning.

A social media policy is extremely important for any company or organization who markets themselves online, though the biggest challenge is to understand the nature of social media and to create guidelines that inspire creativity and eliminate confusion, rather than enforcing restrictions and counter-productivity.

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