A Social Media Policy is an essential item if your organisation is online, and is something we frequently get asked about when doing social foundation work, such as setting up or coordinating social media profiles, or doing social marketing strategy and campaigns for organisations and businesses.
Most marketing & communications managers are especially concerned about what should covered, what they should say and how they should say it, and in the four years since we were founded we have noticed that this has concern has intensified as social media becomes an ever more prevalent part of people’s lives. Most people in the West are now on at least one social media network, and many use social media every day, connecting with their friends and other organisations, talking about what they are drinking, eating, celebrating and going, who they are with, their pets and hobbies, what they are buying or want to buy, and their work or studies… and often this is a good thing for the organisation they work for (or study at), although sometimes it isn’t.
In addition, the need for a Social Media Policy has also increased as it has become widely accepted that social media and social marketing are essential elements for all organisations as part of their marketing and promotions activity, and that guidance is required in order to integrate these into the rest of the business, and in order to keep social communications consistent and of value.
However, one size certainly doesn’t fit all when it comes to Social Media Policies, so each one does need to be a unique and bespoke document, which means it can be quite difficult to write until you know what you want to cover – and knowing that can be a challenge if this is a new area for you and your team. It can be a bit chicken and egg really, to be honest!
Consequently I thought it would be helpful to outline here the basic areas that Social Media Policies should cover, give you some general pointers to bear in mind, as well as some examples for you to have a look at and be inspired by.
- Authenticity and transparency – being authentic online is the only way to gain and build trust. Anything slightly ‘off’ or misleading will immediately arose suspicion, so make it clear what your organisation is doing, why it is doing it, where the information comes from, who is conveying it, etc. Always ensure that vested interest are declared, so for example if you ask students or bloggers or volunteers to post anything on your behalf, they say what their relationship is to you and why they are getting involved.
- Protecting confidential information – just because the internet is ‘open’ doesn’t mean all confidential information is fair game. Protect yours by making sure everyone is aware what is and isn’t to be discussed or shared online.
- Respecting copyrights – ditto copyrights. If you quote or use anything that someone else has created, always make sure your people know they need to check that’s ok and always give credit/links where appropriate – and make clear what your policies about your own copyrighted property are as well.
- Etiquette – a good policy is very clear about the language their people should use when talking to the audience, what can and can’t be said, what time, how frequently and how they respond to direct messages, shares (for example, do you always say ‘thank you’ or some other way of acknowledgement, or not?) and requests, as well as how they respond to negative comments or posts from the audience.
- Write it for Someone, not Anyone – Start by focusing on one or two employees, perhaps the ones most involved with forward-facing social media. Don’t worry about expanding or altering the policy for different audiences, such as subcontractors, volunteers, staff, or individual departments, until you have the basic policy written. Amend, tailor or add after that.
- Stay focused on social media – By all means refer to other organisational regulations and policies, but don’t include them in the social media policy otherwise no one will bother reading it! Just refer to them where necessary and stay focused on the social media things here.
- Don’t get too bogged down – Obviously you have the option to create detailed bespoke policy documents for every social site and tool that your organisation uses. However, in reality this is just impractical as your Social Media Policy would just become completely unwieldly and would need constant updating as the sites change, which they do on a regular basis. Generally I find it best to just focus on the how you expect your people to behave online with regards to, or on behalf of, the organisation.
- Be positive – Social media can still be seen as a scary can of worms as far as many organisations are concerned, but to write a hard hitting social media policy document that is full of “No’s” and “Don’ts”, rather than “Please Do’s”, is highly unlikely to achieve what you want ie an integrated forward-facing social profile that is useful to the organisation and engages the employees and audience. This doesn’t have to be a difficult task – once you have covered off an initial draft, just go back through and see if you can change the language so it is as positive as possible, so “don’t be lazy about checking privacy settings” could become “Do make sure you have set appropriate privacy settings” for example. Obviously there are going to be some things that are a complete no no, but if they are balanced by other parts that are more inclusive and supportive they are more likely to get a good response.
Social Media Policy Resources
Some Social Media Policies by a variety of businesses and organisations for you to read and be inspired by:
American Red Cross – https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1-ePB9tl0gAZIGU_lOJrxpOKNpcxBXZaslL-LhY1OwIY
Durham University – http://www.dur.ac.uk/hr/policies/social/
Harvard Law School – http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/terms-of-use/
Kings College – http://www.kcl.ac.uk/college/policyzone/index.php?id=396
Methodist Children and Youth – http://www.childrenandyouth.org.uk/worker/best-practice/new-social-media-guidelines/
Trinity College, Dublin – http://www.tcd.ie/about/policies/social-networking-social-media.php
UK Civil Service – http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/resources/participation-online
Finally, in essence what you are trying to say in your Social Media Policy is “please be sensible and behave online to clients, supporters, suppliers and customers exactly as you would do when you are offline and at work – ie with respect, friendliness and politeness” – or as Microsoft famously put it, “Be smart”.
However, most organisations seem to get so rattled by the whole digital thing that they grab at the legals and/or ask the top boss (who is STILL frequently as au fait with social media for organisations and businesses as he or she is with flying to the moon) to draft it just so they don’t have to shoulder the responsibility of getting it wrong.
All this is unnecessary. Writing a Social Media Policy is just plain old common sense at the end of the day and if you need any help creating yours, please do get in touch and we would be delighted to give you a hand!