What is a social media policy? It's becoming more than you may have thought
Some common issues with social media policies
- The policies are based on Public Relations (PR) policies. While PR policies are often a good start, they don't take into account the speed, viral nature, or access to the Internet.
- Policies aren't updated frequently enough. FTC and NLRB decisions should be reviewed as they are made, and polices should be updated accordingly. Policies should be reviewed in their entirety every quarter.
- Many policies may not take new social networks or technologies into account. In this context the old question, "if a tree falls in the forest an no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound," translates to "If I say something inappropriate on Snapchat, and wait 10 seconds did it really happen?" The answer is yes, if someone takes a screenshot. Ensuring that policies explicitly mention networks on which the brand has a presence can act like an ounce of prevention. It can make employees think twice about something before doing it.
- They don't address social media usage or commentary after employees have left the company. This is a new and emerging field of study, policy, and law and is becoming a concern for organizations because former employees may have sour grapes, or may just become relaxed about what they say about the brand, working conditions, products, or services. It's something that policies need to cover.
- Recruiting legal issues. This is another emerging field of study, policy, and law, and it's even murkier. 94% of recruiters and organizations use social media to recruit. In doing so, they often see images, posts, and other data that most people might consider private, or even intimate. Potential employees are no longer just putting their best foot forward in a resume and a series of interviews. Recruiters and HR people will find and review social media accounts. Where are the lines? Each organization has to decide that for themselves and create policies accordingly. What's legal and proper? That's still being worked out.
- Not training their employees. This is perhaps the biggest universal shortcoming. Social media polices are often treated like the employee handbook. Once it's made, they distribute a link to it, and have the employee check a box saying they've read it. But social media isn't like the employee handbook. Social media can make bad things go viral, costing time and money to respond to, and causing damage to the brand or its reputation. Yes, you can fire an employee if they violate the policy, but if they've damaged your brand's reputation, a lot of profits might walk out the door with them. Organization's need to make employee social media policy training mandatory, annual, and part of the onboarding process. It needs to be real training, not a checkbox.
What's the FTC got to do with social media?
- Online reviews and comments. Employees of a brand are not supposed to post negative comments of competitor's products and services without disclosing who they work for. Sony recently got in trouble for this as this Marketingland article points out. This is something that needs to be in your policy, and that your employees should be trained on.
- It goes further than that. Are you a blogger, or does your company have a partner affiliation where you receive free samples? If you then endorse those samples, you may need to disclose that. The FTC endorsement guideline Example 8 walks through some scenarios.
- Do you clearly state that your ads are ads? Maybe, maybe not. The FTC just cracked down on Twitter ads. SHIFT Communications published a good article with proper and improper examples of what the FTC expects to see. From their article, "the golden rule is: if money is changing hands, obvious disclosure must occur in-ad."
- You can make all the ads you want that go after your competitors. You cannot, however, target a competing brand and make it look like organic conversations. An iDigitalTimes article details how Samsung just got fined for doing this.
Needless to say, your organization needs to review the guidelines, be familiar with the scenarios, and define appropriate conduct for your organization, and its employees in the social media policy.
The NLRB is cracking down on social media polices
Help creating new, or updating existing social media polices
- SocialMedia.org Disclosure Toolkit: This free, online toolkit provides a series of checklists based on scenarios from disclosure of identity, to creative flexibility, to general best practices. The checklists provide a great starting point creating policies.
- Social Media Today has put together a list of over 100 Examples of Social Media Policies that you can review and draw upon to craft and update your policies.
- Corey Eridon called out 5 Noteworthy examples of Social Media Policies in an article for Hubspot.
- Fast Company published a very good article where they compare and contrast different brand's social media policies, especially those that apply to employee social media use as private people. This is worth the read. I think you'll be surprised at how simple some of these polices are, and how deep they reach into private use of social media.