How does a small to mid-size organization encourage responsible use of social media?

A strong brand presence is dependent on all the pieces working together. It only takes two gears moving in the opposite direction to break the machine. Creating clear guidelines of what to do and what not to do is important to operational success. Policies ensure the company and its employees are on the same page.

Why do you need a social media policy?

According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, 52 percent of respondents believe employees are credible spokespeople. Without a policy, employees won’t have direction. Without direction, you leave the door open to a social media crisis. The goal should be to encourage responsible use of social media while protecting employees and the company from reputation harm.

Edelman: 52 percent of respondents agree employees are credible spokespeople.

What should be in the policy?

A policy doesn’t have to be a completely negative list of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” Fill it with encouragement. Frame it as a collection of guidelines designed to give employees the freedom to participate on social media for your brand. Creating brand advocates should be on every company’s radar and employees make the best ones.

Include reasons why you’re creating the policy in the first place. Provide some background to why the company is using certain channels and who it’s trying to reach. Clarify how the company will manage its branded presence. Set expectations regarding employee engagement.

Here are examples of sections you might find in a small to mid-sized company social media policy:

  • Company presence and official responses: only the social media manager or other designated employees can publish content and responses to company-branded accounts. Employees should not create company-branded accounts without authorization.
  • Avoid communicating confidential information: be mindful of what you post. Do not share customer information, financials, etc.
  • Identify yourself as an employee: when posting or providing a company endorsement in a personal capacity, you have to explain that you are an employee. Include a statement such as “These comments reflect my personal opinion and do not represent the views of company X.”
  • Accuracy and legality of content: every employee is responsible for the content they post. Be aware of copyrights and attribute correctly.
  • Ensure a professional tone: adhere to a professional tone and be sure what you are communicating is compatible with the company’s brand and mission.

Here are examples of sections you might find in the policy about personal social media use:

  • Creation of personal social media accounts: employees should not incorporate any part of the brand or company name into personal accounts. (This depends on the company, of course. The risk here is that the company is not in control of how they appear and it would not be appropriate for the company to ask an employee to change their account. Just avoid this altogether.)
  • Understand your privacy settings: review the privacy settings on all of your personal accounts. You can adjust who sees your content and who can tag you in posts and photos.

Who should post to social media on behalf of the company?

Somewhere in the policy you should outline the role of the employee or team posting on behalf of the organization. These people play a vital gate-keeping role for the company. Let’s call them social media moderators. Moderators could range from an individual to a team.

Make sure moderators know it’s not just about simply posting content. They play a large, visible role in two-way communication. Second, explain how one becomes a moderator. These employees should have extensive training in best practices and are familiar with the social media policy. Moderators can post content without prior approval. Next, mention that other employees can request content to be posted by going through the moderator. Everyone in the organization has a responsibility to find or create content to fuel the content strategy.

There must be rules toward responding to comments and other user-generated content. As mentioned earlier, managing two-way communication is a big part of being a moderator. Good judgment is a must on this front. Not all posts support your brand, while some tout it. Moderators need to understand what to share, when to respond, and when not to respond. Outline potential posts by the audience by using examples. Describe the types of posts that could surface, how to respond, and when to respond. Accomplish this with a Response Protocol in a simple ‘if this, then that’ flow chart.

Response Protocol
An example of a response protocol.

What happens when you can’t provide an immediate appropriate response? That’s where an Escalation Path comes in. This is similar to the Response Protocol in format. It’s typically more important for new moderators, as well as department heads that don’t feel it’s their responsibility to provide a response. It’s important for those in authoritative roles to acknowledge their part. The path makes their part very clear. It’s also important to understand a response isn’t always necessary.

Escalation Path
An example of an escalation path.

Who should read it?

All employees, from top to bottom, should read the policy. If the employees aren’t active yet on social media, the policy will show the importance the company is placing on it. It may encourage them to start an account.

Do not underestimate the power of your employees. The policy isn’t just about protecting the brand; it’s about promoting it. You need these rules in place to turn your best advocates loose on your potential audience. Give them social media tips and encourage their participation.