Social media policies … minimizing risk, empowering staff

policy developmentWith the explosion of social media usage worldwide, many companies and governments are struggling to keep up. The medium has been evolving and progressing at such a breakneck pace that many companies are overlooking the basics in a mad dash to secure the immense marketing opportunities they see in social media. While there’s nothing wrong in securing your share of the turf, it might be wise to dedicate some of your resources in getting the fundamentals right first. By this, I mean setting the foundation for social media success before chasing after your customers with Facebook posts and uber-tweeting!

It starts with developing a sound social media usage policy. Go into your workplace and have a look at what people are doing. You’d be surprised at how many of your staff regularly use Linkedin, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and others as part of their daily work practice. From recruiting staff to researching potential customers, social media is a great asset. But do your staff have any guidance on what they should, and shouldn’t, be saying? Do you even want them to be using social media?

One of our clients is a multi-national engineering firm listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). In working with them to develop an overall social media usage policy, an issue arose which had their legal team in a flap. The issue was the result of recruiters within the company using social media such as Linkedin to begin recruiting for projects the company was confident it would secure, but which hadn’t as yet been announced to the ASX. The problem was that canny investors were keeping an eye on the company’s social media recruiting to see if they could get the jump and buy-in knowing an ASX announcement would soon boost the company’s value.

It came down to the level of detail being put into the recruitment notices. In an effort to attract candidates, recruiters were revealing the value of the project, where it would be located and how many staff were required. It didn’t take much for investors who’d been keeping an eye on the company’s regular announcements to know which projects the company was confident of winning.

Such a situation poses real problems. Stock exchanges all over the world are monitoring listed company’s social media activities for just such breeches of reporting requirements, yet few company’s have a plan in place to remain compliant.

This is where policy becomes so important. Having a policy ensures firstly that staff know exactly what they can and can’t do when it comes to social media. Secondly, it provides the foundation for action if you find a staff member to be in breech of the policy. Numerous instances exist in which staff argued against being sacked for misuse of social media by claiming they were unaware they were doing anything wrong because there wasn’t a policy in place. Virgin Atlantic fought a two-year court battle with 12 former stewards who had set up a Facebook group called Virgin On Disaster which complained about passengers, food quality, safety and so on. The 12 posted regular wall posts complaining and sniping, and before too long the site had more than a thousand regular contributors. While I’m sure the site’s popularity took the 12 stewards by surprise and quickly went beyond their control, the fact is they were responsible for creating a social media discussion which embarrassed and damaged their employer.

They were sacked, but argued they didn’t realise their site was in the public domain, as it had been intended as a light-hearted joke between colleagues. In the end, and millions of dollars later, Virgin successfully sacked the employees by arguing they had broken the company’s confidentiality policy, but the damage to its brand and reputation was already done. For the record, your confidentiality policy may offer some protection, but most staff don’t realise their social media sites by and large are anything but private. Take a look at the privacy policies of such sites and you’ll see that almost everything you post can be publicly accessed. Again, once the damage to your brand is done, it’s too late.

We advocate developing not only a social media policy, but also implementing a staff awareness program to ensure everyone knows about it. It might be a simple email campaign, or something more sophisticated, such as an easily-accessed webinar or online training program. The money spent in getting it right may save you plenty in the long-run.

Once your policy is in place, the next step is to provide style sheets and guidelines for any staff you entrust to run your social media campaigns, be they blogs, wall posts, tweets and so on. Getting everyone on the same page is a must for protecting your brand. A sloppy Linkedin profile reflects badly on the company. Poor wall posts or mispelled tweets make the company, and individual, look bad. Style guides clearly show staff how to make individual and business unit profiles look consistent, as well as explain how to actually go about setting them up. Guidelines on what type of blogs, forums and discussions to join empowers your staff to become regular brand advocates. You may not want your whole workforce participating, but you should enable your PR, marketing, and corporate affairs staff to do so, along with your executives.

Easy access to this material ensures your team gets it right. The end result should be everyone knows what is expected of them, key staff know how to develop social media campaigns and activities, and your brand has a professional social media presence that is consistent, and relevant.

Jay Pring

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