Social media policies are kind of like health insurance…you can get away with not having any, but if a train wreck occurs, you going to be screwed.
So make sure your business is safe, not sorry, and draft some. By taking some inspiration from Frankenstein and cobbling together information you have on hand and find online, your policy document will be done before you know it.
It’s time to step into the lab, Doctor. I’m going help you create this monster in five easy steps.
1. Start with a fresh body.
Your first step is to see what your company already has on file to govern employees’ behavior and communication.
Start by checking in with your PR and HR departments, if you have them. Your PR staff can help fill you in on whether or not your company already has standards established for disclosure when releasing information to the public. And your HR staff can supply you with any existing policies from your employee handbook or other documents regarding how they expect employees to conduct themselves.
This information will give you a jumping off point for building your policy document.
2. Flesh it out.
Your next stop should be the site, Social Media Governance, and its ginormous policy database. Find a few companies, organizations or businesses that are similar to your own and start borrowing language that resonates for your company.
In general, you want to establish guidelines to cover a few different categories of social behavior, content and engagement, such as:
- Best practices: What is the goal of these policies? Who needs to follow them? How can they be modified?
- Engagement: How transparent will your company be in social media? How will you talk about your competitors and their products/services? Who is authorized to engage?
- Disclosure: How will you talk about your clients/customers, vendors or advocates? How will you solicit testimonials? (For some ideas, you can check out KaneCo’s disclosure policy.)
- Employee’s Engagement/Disclosure at work. How do you want employees to amplify or endorse your company’s social messaging? Are they required to do that? How should they disclose that they are employees?
- Employee’s Engagement/Disclosure off-the-clock. How you want employees to cite their opinions on your industry or your company when they are speaking only for themselves?
- Content attributions and copyrights: Who owns the information you’ll be posting? How are you planning on handling guest posts and ghost writers? Will you be using the Creative Commons license?
- Comment policies: Are you going to moderate comments? What types of comments will you tolerate and what will you not? How will you be communicating this policy to your community?
- Tool-specific policies: Are there any policies you need to cover tools, such as Google Analytics, that require you to disclose information about its usage as a condition of using the product?
3. Start stitching the parts together.
Next, it’s time to dive deeper into each of these categories and start hashing out the details, asking some hard questions and refining your company’s unique viewpoint on your policies.
So, you found a policy that says that “our company will not moderate comments on our social channels, and allow respectful dialogue even if and when comments may be perceived as negative toward us.”
That sounds nice. But how exactly are you planning to define the word “negative?”
What if a person leaves a comment on your blog that says, “I am unhappy with the service you gave me?” How do you handle that? What if the comment is something like, “I hope you guys rot in hell?” Do you handle that differently? What if they say, “I hope, Sam, your VP of Sales, rots in hell?” Now you’re in a whole new territory. Want to handle that differently?
I find that this portion of the process can be highly entertaining since it’s one of the few times where you can sit with management and have deep discussions like, “What do you think about the word ‘douchebag?’ Do we let that slide?” “Yes?” “Okay, what about the word ‘dipshit?’ Do you consider that to be a swear word?”
4. Zap it with some juice to get it moving.
Great, you have a social media policy document. Now the fun really begins.
It’s time to start circulating this sucker to get feedback and a sign-off from management, your company’s legal counsel, your community managers, and anyone else who will be affected by them.
Your end goal here is to get policies approved that are flexible enough to give you a comfortable framework for communicating in the moment with your social community, but also structured enough so you don’t feel like you’re hanging out on the front lines all alone, with no one to watch your back.
Make sure everyone is clear…when it comes to social media, mistakes come with the territory. Your policies will need to plan for those mistakes in a way that advocates for your community managers and placates your legal counsel — no small feat.
5. Give it some teeth.
Your social media policy won’t do you much good if there are no plans in place for enforcing it and no repercussions for people if they choose not to follow it. Ask yourself these questions…
- Are you monitoring mentions of your company and its products/services across the social web? (If not, for the love of Pete, please do so.)
- How often are you looking at your monitoring dashboards? Will you be able to step in quickly when a crisis goes down, or you see your own company engaging in a way that’s not appropriate?
- If something bad does happen, what are your crisis plans? Who’s supposed to jump in and help? What channels are you going to use to disseminate information to address what went wrong?
- What will the repercussions be for the employee(s) who made the mistake?
- What do you consider a “mistake” versus something that is done maliciously to hurt your brand’s reputation?
As you can see, like the medium it is designed to address, developing social media policies is all about creating dialogue within your company — talking through scenarios, clarifing your brand’s voice, and finding a happy medium between how you’d like people to behave and how they’ll actually end up behaving. There is no one right way to do this.
Your Frankenpolicies will be a lumbering, messy beast of a document that may never be totally flawless. But trust me, when push comes to shove, it’ll be a handy monster to have around.