How to Create a Company Social Media Policy

Despite the massive investment in social media underway by most consumer brands and service-based businesses, most are still struggling in regards to their own employees’ use of networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. The lack of comfort with employee use of social media is such that many companies completely ban use from the workplace. This is utterly foolish.

Banning social media from the workplace doesn’t only create resentment and a feeling that management is operating in an old business model. It also deprives the business of valuable exposure on social networks blog_twitteranalyticsand also limits employees from creating valuable relationships with company suppliers, contractors and potential clients. Since many small businesses and services are placing their primary emphasis on Facebook and Twitter, rather than into traditional Web sites, it also impairs your employees from doing the type of research and due diligence that will make them competitive.

This is to say nothing about your current employees’ ability to refer new hires into the company. With an average cost of $8,000-$12,000 to make a traditional hire (add it up – creating job descriptions, posting ads, doing interviews, management time, etc), the money you’ll save when your employees are maintaining relationships online is considerable. Not only will it be easier for your current employees to help you fill positions using their network on LinkedIn or Facebook, but it’ll be far easier to land those candidates (note to overzealous IT Director: you’re scaring away the best candidates by not letting them log into Facebook at work).

Rather than distance your business from the future of business communications, create a smart, pro-business and pro-employee social networking policy as a permanent part of your company handbook.

Step 1 – Define Company-Sponsored Messaging Guidelines
Make a clear distinction between company-sponsored usage and personal usage, and create different guidelines for each group. Your employees that are blogging, tweeting, networking or posting on behalf of the company need a clear set of guidelines so that your brand and corporate image is always consistent, regardless of the channel they use. Focus first on the most likely potential areas of friction:

Publishing schedule – Are employees obligated to create a posting plan in advance that will be reviewed by managers, or are they free to wing it?
Authorized posting topics – Should your companies stick to company-focused topics only, or will you give them room to improvise?
Non-authorized posting topics – Which topics should never be addressed?
Authorized profile images – May employees use their personal profile pictures? If so, what’s acceptable and what isn’t acceptable?
Participation policies – How to handle others that comment on your post or tweet, and define whether your employees are allowed to comment on other social sites on behalf of the company)
Handling negative sentiment – Define how publicly visible negative comments about your company will be handled by your social media-focused employees.

Step 2 – Define Tools and Objectives
Define a common set of tools (social media management software) that will be adopted by the entire group doing social media on behalf of the company. This will make it much easier to share knowledge and be more productive. You should include at least one Facebook/Twitter management tool, such as Seesmic, as well as a social media monitoring tool, such as SocialMention. It may also be prudent to define how you will measure success. Do you care most about Fan/Follower acquisition? Retweets? Commerce derived from certain social campaigns? Traffic from social properties to your main Web site? Be clear.

Step 3 – Define Rules for Networking with Clients, Suppliers and Partners
Deepening connections with business associates can be the best thing for your business. However, it can also lead to a tremendous amount of anxiety and friction. For example, it can be extremely awkward when clients “Friend” your employees in Facebook or other sites; your employees’ first worry is that something on their personal social space might be harshly judged and cost your company business or relationships. These fears are completely legitimate.

You need to state clearly that you are fully supportive of your employees’ right to ignore or accept a social networking invitation from a colleague, client or partner. It’s their choice. You can also provide them with ideas for handling circumstances with finesse. In Facebook, it may be acceptable to Friend a client but also limit their access to less personal content. Another suggestion is to re-route the connection to a business-focused site such as LinkedIn or, in some cases, Twitter.

Step 4 – Define Rules for Limited Personal Use
This is actually the easy part, where most issues are black and white. Here are the major friction points you’ll want to address:

• Limited personal use while at work (during breaks, or at lunch) – acceptable.
• Airing grievances online with the Company or other employees (even in a closed personal network of friends) – unacceptable.
• Discussing sensitive company matters – unacceptable.
• Discussing sensitive Client information – unacceptable.
• Accepting a social networking request from another employee – acceptable.
• Ignoring a social networking request from another employee – acceptable.

As a final step, it may be wise to encourage employees to explore filtering techniques that exist within Facebook and LinkedIn so that they can handle their social networking with some degree of nuance. An example might be organizing their contacts into groups so that some more sensitive groups (clients, partners) are limited from some content.

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