Why You Need Social Media Guidelines - Yesterday
Thursday, December 3, 2009 at 2:23PM
Julie Senter in Associations, Social Media, social media, social media guidelines, social media policy

A friend of mine is a lobbyist for a trade association that has a very active PAC and government advocacy program. 

Recently, one of his co-workers anonymously posted a comment on a state senator’s blog criticizing the senator’s stand on a contentious local issue.  Within a few hours, my friend’s boss received a very angry call from the senator, who thought she had the association’s support and wanted to know not only why the association had criticized her, but why it had done so anonymously.

Do you know what your employees are saying online and in social media channels?  More importantly, how does it reflect on your organization? 

It’s a gut check in today’s world when the only tool a person needs to publish content on the Web is a cell phone. 

If you aren’t monitoring what’s being said about your company on the Web (and really, why aren’t you?) you can still take a few steps to help guide employees on how you expect them to interact in social media, especially when talking about the organization and its activities.

They’re called social media guidelines, and you need them yesterday.

Putting together a few simple statements and sharing them with your staff will go a long way toward preventing some unnecessary future headaches.  Think of all the Tylenol you’ll save.

First, you need to understand one basic concept of social media, and this truly is key: You are not in control.

You may have blocked the Facebook site from company computers, but you don’t control the Facebook app on your accounting supervisor’s iPhone.  And you may have searched for all your employee names on Twitter, but you didn’t find the one your receptionist set up under the handle @phonegal227.

There is no way to control social media, so don’t even try.  What you need to do is figure out a plan for engaging in it.  Instead of trying to rule with an iron first, it’s a better tactic to explain to your employees what you expect from them and then hold them accountable as situations arise.  Your employees will appreciate the guidance.

I use the word “guidelines” because it’s better than trying to develop a social media “policy” that is too strict and needs layer upon layer of approval.  The Web, and social media in particular, is fluid, and your guidelines need to be flexible.

Start by reviewing other company guidelines.  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel in this arena.  One of the best I’ve seen so far is from SocialFish, which also borrows heavily from Sun Microsystems and Intel.  It’s clear.  It’s succinct.  It’s dead-on good advice.  Another good research source is econsultancy.com, which compiled 16 different company policies.

The next thing to do is put pen to paper paying special attention to your corporate culture.  Your corporate communications have a “voice” and your guidelines should include the same tone. 

You also need to think about how you’re going to make your employees aware of it.  Don’t just write them up and stick them in your employee handbook.  Discuss your guidelines at your staff meetings.  Include them in your company newsletter.  Post them on your Intranet.  Your employees won’t adhere to them if they don’t know about them!  This is also a fantastic opportunity, by the way, to talk to your employees about your company’s initiatives in social media.  They can be some of your best recruiters for Facebook fans and Twitter followers during their offline communications!

The final step is monitoring the conversation.  As I mentioned this before, you should be doing this already.  Expect that mistakes will be made and try to plan ahead of time how you will handle infractions.  This is also a Tylenol-saver.   And if you’re not monitoring the conversation, what are you waiting for?

Article originally appeared on Senterline Communications (http://senterline.net/).
See website for complete article licensing information.