For organizations with a smaller social media presence, the head-scratcher of the day is whether or not you need a company social media policy. But when you understand what’s really included in a social media policy, and how it prepares you for future growth, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Brad Cebulski of BConnected recently spoke on the topic of social media policy at the Social Media Breakfast in Madison, WI. BConnected manages social media efforts for companies of all sizes out of their offices in Appleton and Madison, WI.
Like most folks, the mere mention of the word “policy” sends shivers down my spine, and conjures up visions of bureaucrats, committee meetings, and paperwork galore. But Brad’s policy approach isn’t about red tape. It’s about empowerment.
“Policy” is misconstrued as negative
Brad agreed that “policy” tends to be a negative word. However, no matter where you are in terms of your social media efforts (beginner / pro / somewhere in-between), it’s something you should have in place. It can help you:
- Set your brand standards
- Prepare for a potential public relations crisis
- Create procedures for dealing with rogue team members
- Set expectations for your social media team
- Allay fears from your owners or management
Done correctly, your policy will operate in a two-fold manner. First, it will provide you clear-cut direction on what to do when things go wrong. Second, it will provide the parameters for your staff, and as a result, empower them to be creative and productive.
Let’s dig into Brad’s individual points.
1. Set brand standards
The brand is the basis of all your marketing efforts. Your social media is simply an extension of the brand experience, and it should encompass all that your organization stands for.
Voice: Brad considers “voice” the most important part of the brand standard. What tone will you take on your social media? Will you be positive? The same attention you pay to your brand voice in all your advertising and content marketing should appear in your social.
Attributes: This includes color, logos, fonts, imagery, etc. All should align with your brand guidelines.
Brand experience: What will visitors to your social media experience as a takeaway? Will they be informed? Entertained? It’s social, folks, the chance to interact with your customers. How do you want them to feel?
Quality: Ah, our old friend quality. We are firm advocates of quality over quantity, and you should be, too. Brad used a great example of someone on a social media team posting a picture in which the face in the photo was blurry. Don’t fall into the quantity over quality trap.
2. Prepare for the public relations crisis
Establishing a policy is essentially risk management. Any organization consists of people, and people are going to make mistakes. How prepared are you to deal with them when it happens?
You’re building a policy to ensure a crisis never occurs, but you do need to have the procedures in place in the event it does. You need a chain of command in place to deal with the issues. Be prepared to handle the acts of a rogue team member quickly and authentically.
For example, KitchenAid had a social media nightmare on its hands when a team member tweeted out this little horror after President Obama was elected:
Apparently, the staffer had thought the tweet was going out via their personal account. Their response included an apology and the employee was dismissed. Nevertheless, the damage was done.
3. Establish rules for rogue team members
In the history of the entire universe, it’s never been easier to say anything to anyone at any time, thanks to social media. So there’s always the danger of the rogue employee, dashing off the tweet like we just touched on with KitchenAid.
Avoiding social media entirely is not the right way to handle it. If you have a problem employee, it’s likely they’re going to hurt you in other areas of the organization, not just on social. The emphasis on hiring right and putting the right people in social media roles can prevent a fire from starting in the first place.
However, you do need to set your Human Resources rules in place in terms of how you’ll deal with a rogue team member. If they violate the rules of your social media policy, you should have ironclad steps in place to deal with the issue.
4. Set expectations
Why is it that people view any type of rule or regulation as a negative thing? In the game of basketball (my go-to analogy), you have rules and regulation regarding travelling, fouling, points — the list goes on.
But notice how amazingly creative a basketball player can be, even within all those restrictions? The same applies to your social media staff. If they understand the rules of your organization and how you want social media handled, they can flourish in creative and exciting ways.
This is the “empowerment” that Brad emphasized.
5. Allay fears
Let’s be frank: Social media is something that keeps a CEO or an owner up at night. The idea of a KitchenAid disaster is about more than a PR blemish. It can hit a company fiscally and legally, too.
What if a group decides to boycott a company because you didn’t respond properly to a rogue team member’s tweet? How about a lawsuit or some sort of legal action (we’re sure a lawyer can come up with something).
A social media policy is not an ironclad measure to prevent against a crisis, but any savvy owner or CEO knows there are risks involved in any business. Ignoring social media entirely is quickly becoming less of an option for businesses. It’s best to put a policy in place so you can get a good night’s sleep.
The Process: Building your social media policy
Now that you know why a social media policy is good for organizations of any size, let’s dive into a little more detail on how to put one together.
Start with social media basics
Before you start crafting the policy, you have to understand how each of the tools works. How do you set up an admin on Facebook? What does Instagram prohibit posting? Who should have ultimate control of the accounts?
You can get pretty deep into the weeds with each one of these accounts, and you should. My advice, especially if you’re a smaller marketing team, is really understand how a particular social media outlet works and set it up correctly instead of rushing to set up a bazillion accounts.
You’ll be hard-pressed to manage them all, and you’ll struggle with all the admin nuances.
PRO TIP: Be particularly careful not to give one person in the organization complete admin control over all accounts, particularly Facebook. Brad relayed horror stories of one person being the lone admin of a Facebook page (that was tied to her personal profile), and then leaving the company and dropping off social media. It was a nightmare to try and reclaim admin rights.
Identify the structure of your organization
Determine who will be posting. How will you allocate the time and resources for posting? What amount of time will you set aside to check accounts and be part of the conversation.
Remember, social media is a conversation. It’s about being social, not just blasting out your own content. It’s about being at a cocktail party and engaging in the conversation. If you just drop in haphazardly, you’ll never build any online relationships.
Identify the goals and values of your brand / company
Determine what you want your social media to look like and accomplish. This ties back into the quality aspect we mentioned earlier. Research the companies that you find inspirational on social media, and emulate their approach. Or stake out bold new territory with an approach that embodies your message.
Include in this part of the policy things like the tone you want to set (positive), the visuals you want to share (non-stock, high-quality); and the frequency you want to post (be active but not spammy).
This is also where your values should shine through. If you’re a homebuilder, do you value craftsmanship? Your posts should be as visually appealing and well-constructed as your buildings.
Finally, set goals and metrics for your company. Think less about marketing goals and more about customer service. How quickly will you respond to a complaint? How will you deal with a complaint? These are goals you should establish up-front.
Set up a process for enforcing the policy
Remember our friend, the rogue employee? Brad notes that in many cases, that person might not have gone rogue if they would have known there were consequences to their actions.
You’ll want to integrate your human resources team and even an employment lawyer on this section, but it will be well worth the money and time. Establishing a consequence for violations of the policy not only gives your employees a firm understanding of right and wrong, it also establishes your procedures, so you can act quickly and decisively.
Brad mentioned a YMCA in Appleton that has a “three strikes you’re out” policy for all its employees, and it lists the various items that qualify as a “strike.” They integrated violations of the social media policy into this type of existing program.
The framework: What to include in the policy itself
There are a number of templates available on social media policies. We touched on the broad strokes of a social media policy, but Brad noted the following items should also be integrated:
- Philosophy of social media
- Defining terms of social media
- Can employees include their organization in their profile
- What types of information should remain confidential on social media
- Compliance with existing policies
- Following social media sites terms of service agreements
- Boundaries with job duties
- Consequences if violations were to occur
Teach, don’t just penalize
Hopefully, we’ve shown you that you can use a policy as a positive force. It can establish the parameters for the company, and provide structure and framework for creativity and growth.
“Use it to teach, not just to penalize,” Brad encourages us.
Don’t be afraid of the policy. Instead, use it as the building block for your social media, and build upon it as the social landscape changes and your program grows. No matter what size your organization, it can do nothing but help your program.
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