Creating a social media policy helps protect you from damage to your reputation and the failure of your brands through sharing content on social media that falls flat or insults your community and customers. Consider the following scenarios showing the damage your business can face without a strong social media policy that’s enforced by constant monitoring and clearly proscribed penalties for violations.
- Joy loves Facebook. She spends most nights catching up with friends and shares her day with them. She mentions a new product she’s developing for her employer, proud that she thought of a unique positioning that’ll make her company millions. Her friends reward her by ‘Liking’ and sharing her post. Unfortunately, a competitor hears the conversation and changes their marketing strategy, following the efforts of Joy’s employer to capitalize on their new product. Ultimately, Joy’s firm decides the product is a failure because they face too much competition from a well-known business and stop making it, costing 450 jobs.
- An employee posts something that damages the reputation of your business by creating content that looks unprofessional either through poor post quality (ie. the image is poor or the grammar is atrocious) or the content is offensive.
- A situation where a disgruntled employee says your brand sucks or disses the CEO on the brand’s social media page.
- An employee says something that’s racially or culturally insensitive.
- Someone uses the firm’s social platforms and says something insulting about the firm or its customers.
- You might even face a situation where a customer or competitor posts a negative comment on your social media page that isn’t moderated or where the moderator simply fails to catch the negative comment.
- You hire a new employee who has negative issues hidden (prior racist/ sexist/ homophobic ranks, support for gun violence, from you but visible through their social media posts.
OK, so this is a made-up scenario, but it could happen, as shown by this epic mistake from Asus Computer.
- Consider this post from Asus that caused a backlash and damaged the brand’s reputation. The only excuse the company made for such a sexist post was that it was created by an intern without oversight and approval from the brand.
- Or this one from a Chrysler executive insulting the entire town.
These are real situations reported as failures in social media.
This raises two questions:
Would you even know Joy’s actions contributed to the product’s failure?
What can you do to Joy for her loose tongue?
The reality is that, without a strong social media policy that clearly spells out which activities on social media are allowed (and not allowed), as well as the penalties for violations, there might be nothing you can do to keep Joy or another employee from posting damaging content. Further, without a good social media listening program, you might not even discover inappropriate content until it’s too late.
Elements of a smart social media policy
1. Be clear on what types of conversations are allowed and what types of conversations are barred
But, don’t make a social media policy that bans all social media conversations — these likely won’t stand up to legal challenges, destroy employee morale, and waste a valuable source of engagement, namely your employees. According to Mashable, firms should:
Refrain from comments that can be interpreted as slurs, demeaning, inflammatory, etc. The Internet is full of varied opinions, and it’s okay to share yours, but you never, never, never want to be branded a racist or narrow-minded or an unstoppable hot-head.
Increasingly, consumers use shared values to influence their purchase decisions, as you can see below in a study by Accenture. Hence, sharing content that goes against the prevailing values your firm shares with its customers is just shooting your brand in the proverbial foot, even when the content doesn’t reflect the values shared in the firm’s values statement. Firms need to monitor what employees say on social media through public listening posts such as Brandwatch. Remember, your social media policy should stipulate these policies are in effect whether the employee uses their own equipment on their own time or that of their employer; on their own social platforms or those they manage for their employer.
2. Establish consequences when employees violate the policy
Employees must clearly understand the consequences of policy violations. In establishing the penalties for violating your policy remember that, if employees are critical of the firm, it’s an opportunity for the firm to ferret out sources of discontent and fix the problems. Hence, don’t be overly punitive in establishing consequences for this type of speech. Also, remember that employees are a great tool for personalizing your firm to its online community, so stifling all online conversations about the brand can easily represent a bigger opportunity cost than letting a few damaging posts go online.
When employees share their unhappiness at work online, it also offers an opportunity to show you care about your employees. Once you’ve fixed the problem, share your fixes on social networks to show you listen and care about employees. This not only improves employee morale but improves your brand image and makes hiring new employees easier.
Establishing alternate means for employees to point out reasons for their discontent offers opportunities for you to fix problems and reduces their need to air your dirty laundry online.
If you remember employees are your internal customers, you treat them better and your social media policy should reflect this.
Your employees should understand that companies can and will monitor employee use of social media and social networking web sites, even if they are engaging in social networking or social media use away from the office. Employees should always think twice before hitting ’send‘; consider what could happen if your organization sees what the employee publishes on the Internet and how that may reflect not just on the employee, but also the company.
3. Don’t shut down social media to protect the brand
In today’s world, maintaining a social media presence isn’t a nicety, it’s a necessity, so some employees have a legitimate role in creating content for your social media platforms. Below are just a few of the things users want to hear from brands on their social platforms.
Plus the frequency of required posting (once a day on most social platforms and multiple times a day on Twitter and Pinterest) means you need a team to create content on a consistent basis. So, how do you manage a team of content creators while still maintaining a consistent voice for the brand and ensuring against damaging posts? The answer is using an automation tool to allow multiple users to create content while requiring post approval by an experienced manager prior to actual publication. Such a process would have saved Asus Computer from embarrassment by stopping the post shown earlier.
4. Empower employees
Employees are a great tool when it comes to social media. They are the nexus of ideas for future content, act like influencers to spread the company’s message, create authenticity for the brand, and personify the brand. Hence, encourage their engagement with your social media rather than hold everything so close as to stifle conversations on social media. Johnsonville Sausage is a great example of a company using its employees to benefit the brand on both traditional and social media. With adequate guardrails in place from your social media policy, employees should clearly understand the ways they can support the brand online.
Encouraging employees to respond to customer complaints they find on social media is another great way to empower employees. When they see something negative or when a user posts a question on social media, they should feel comfortable with sharing their knowledge. Reward them for their efforts and empower them to fix problems without going through a lot of red tape.
5. Keep an eye on your bottom line
Allowing employees to participate in social networks, even during working hours can be a productivity drain. Instead, your social media policy should direct employees regarding expectations to maintain productivity. It can be difficult to parse employee actions on social networks between work-related activities and purely social activities. And the natural blurring between the two necessary of effective community building makes this even more difficult.
6. Distinguish employees who have a legitimate role in participating in the firm’s social networks
You really don’t want the firm’s social networks to be a free-for-all. But, you also don’t want so much bureaucracy that the firm’s social networks don’t deal authentically with their community. For instance, we worked with a client once who wanted to approve each Tweet before it went out. That won’t work unless you have someone dedicated to approving submissions within a short period of time and your social media policy should establish what legitimate social network managers for the firm can say and establish an approval process. By the same token, we now have a client who takes posts submitted for approval and posts them haphazardly, some clumped together with days in between or posts them to the wrong platform so the content doesn’t mesh with community norms.
An approval process I believe works in social media is to have strategies approved by management, including the tone of conversations, sources of information legitimate for disclosure, who might post on the firm’s social networks, and the proper blend of personal and professional sharing. A content calendar (such as the one I developed below and available as a fillable template through this link) helps with this strategy building.
Once the calendar is approved, allow content creators freedom over the exact content without requiring approval of each post or, at a minimum, approve content without using too heavy a hand in editing.
7. Develop standards and metrics related to the use of social media by employees
If you’re going to use employees effectively as part of your social media efforts, your social media policy should contain standards and metrics to guide behavior. For instance, if employees are required to monitor company social networks, they should have standards and metrics in terms of how they respond to customers, such as responding within 24 hours.
Personalize your social media policy
It should be obvious from this discussion that there’s no such thing as a standard social media policy. Your social media policy must be customized for the specific business and context to suit the needs of the organization, its employees, and its customers.
The balancing act of a social media policy
Not only do firms face the challenge of creating a social media policy dealing with applicants (Facebook disallows a firm’s use of prospective employee login information as part of the hiring process), but they also need a policy allowing employees privacy and the right to share on social media platforms about their work-life unless it violates the needs of the firm to keep secrets and clearly states this is their opinion not that of their employer. Shutting down conversations on social networks not only tells employees you don’t trust them, but also cheats the firm out of an outlet to personalize the firm and create engagement with customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
First Amendment Rights might also be at stake if your social media policy is too restrictive. But, without a smart social media policy, you’re at risk of losing trade secrets or having employees say things that damage your brand’s reputation.
Monitoring your social mentions?
Answering the questions in order, how would you even find out about Joy sharing proprietary information? Not knowing about this accidental sharing, you’d make the wrong attribution regarding why your new product failed. You might think the new product failed because it lacked a critical feature, for instance. This inaccuracy would lead to long-term problems when you develop new products by adding a feature that was never needed in the first place.
Plus, without effective monitoring, you won’t know about the problem so you can fix the leak so it won’t happen again.
And, it’s harder than you think to “hear” what people are saying about your brand on social media because the internet is just too big with too many conversations happening in too many places. You need good software and a cohesive plan to monitor what’s being said about your brand.
What can you do about employees who share inappropriately on social media?
Sadly, the answer may be nothing — especially if it was a mistake.
Having a non-disclosure agreement as part of your employment contract may provide some action against the employee, but the harm has already been done.
Adding a social media policy and required employee training to your employment contract provides a proactive approach to avoid inappropriate actions in social media. Thus, the firm may avoid embarrassment and failure.
I’d love to hear your feedback. Do you have a social media policy? What’s in it? And, if you don’t, what do you think needs to go in a policy beyond the elements mentioned in this post? Enter your feedback in the comments below.
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