How to Draft a Company Social Media Policy


Happy Monday. I’m in the process of drafting an official social media policy for Outspoken Media. Historically, we’ve worked under a “common sense”/“don’t be a jerk” policy, but as the team continues to grow, it’s important to get something official on paper. Not because we want to rein anyone in (God knows that never worked with me…), but because we don’t want to throw them into the wild without proper training. It’s my hope that a social media policy (combined with lots of in-person question answering) will be a good way to both empower employees to be social AND give them the confidence they need to step out.

Your corporate social media policy is a set of guidelines that employees will be able to turn to when navigating unfamiliar situations. Because, as common place as it may feel, Facebook and blogging and Twitter isn’t normal for everyone. Conversing with customers, colleagues and contacts in the confines of 140 characters is often something that takes a little knowledge and skill. The purpose of your social media policy is to help employees understand what is and what is not acceptable, where the line is, and how, exactly, they should react when someone they’ve never met, and whom they were only trying to help, turns around to call them a HUGE MORON.  Because while social media marketing can produce some great results, it can also produce even bigger Kenneth Cole-style disasters.

When drafting up Outspoken Media’s social media policy, I found it helpful to first outline some of the key areas I wanted to cover. I thought it may be worthwhile to share a bit of what’s in ours for others in the same situation. I’d love to hear how it differs/mirrors your own policy.

What is social media & what is your purpose for being there?

When you talk about your company’s “social media” use, which sites are you referring to? Is it just Facebook and Twitter or are you also referring to your company blog, internal wikis and your in-house Q&A system? If you are, then you need to spell that out so that everyone is operating under the same definition. Once that’s squared away, provide an explanation of what social media means to your company. Why are you investing resources in participating? What do you hope to get out of it and how are these tools helping you?  That company mantra or philosophy will be invaluable in quickly leading employees out of murky water.

How does social media integrate into their job?

It’s important that employees are able to see social media as an extension of their position so they embrace, not resent, it. Whether their position is that of your company’s receptionist, its CEO, or someone in middle management, they’re still an arm and a face of your company. And their interaction counts. One of the best ways to encourage smarter participation is to make someone aware of the larger goal and their part in helping everyone achieve it. Let me see how their interaction can be used to benefit the entire company.

Who are they in social media?

Your social media policy needs to make it clear who your employees are in the world of social media. Are they to identify themselves as being part of the organization and, if so, how are they to do it? Should they create company-specific accounts with the company name in the username or will they be engaging from personal accounts? [If the latter, you may want to read our post on how breaking up is hard to do.]  How do they handle sites like Digg, which are less open to marketing personalities?  How much transparency should be used and is that site-specific?

Breakdown of common sites

Ideally, you’ll want to create a channel-specific rulebook for each social media network that you’ll be working to create a presence on, but it’s still not a bad idea to include some best practices in with your general document. Briefly introduce employees to the networks, your established accounts on each network, the purpose of the account, and some best practices for how they are to engage there, if at all. If you’re not sure how to get started, I’d recommend checking out the post Tamar Weinberg wrote on social media etiquette back in 2008. She did most of your work for you. What’s really important is that you give the person reading a quick overview at what the site is about and the key things they need to know about interacting there. If the person will be responding to blog comments, you may also want to include some tips for how to respond to blog comments in a way that provide value, instead of more spam. In fact, please do this. I’m tired of deleting your employee’s spammy comment

Best practices for engagement

At Outspoken Media, we’ve always instructed employees and staff to take a common sense approach to social media engagement

  • Acknowledge your association to Outspoken Media
  • No personal attacks
  • Stay away from flame wars
  • Don’t poke the crazy [Rhea has to often remind me of this one.]

And I have to say, it’s worked rather well for us over the past two years. That said, as our team continues to grow, it’s becoming more important that we spell out certain beliefs that are core to Outspoken Media’s public engagement. And you’d be wise to do the same for your company. Your social media interactions are more and more becoming your digital footprint. Make sure you’re giving employees a trail to walk on.

How to handle common occurrences

Why should an employee do when they see a negative tweet about the brand? Who do complaints get passed off to? How do they handle an irate troll making threats? What topics are off-limits? How much personal information are they allowed to share?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have the answers to these questions before YOU started in social media? Give them a road map and a guide to handling common social media occurrences. It will make that first “YOU LIVE WITH YOUR MOM! LOLZ” comment far less jarring and give them the tools they need to best handle the situation in a way that your company approves of.

Social media & NDAs, client/company confidentiality

You know what’s a total natural reaction to finishing great work for a client? Wanting to tell the whole world what you did. Sometimes that’s 100 percent allowed and other times it could get your company sued for millions of dollars. Just because someone signed a traditional confidentiality clause or NDA with your company, doesn’t mean they automatically assume that applies to social media conversations, as well. Make sure they know it does and that they know what they can say, what they can’t, and what you’d absolutely hang them from their TOES if they ever muttered.

Social media & productivity

As great of a tool as social media is, it can also become a colossal time waster. Let it be known that the company will be monitoring employee social media use (and actually DO monitor it) and that abuse will be handled appropriately. It’s a nice kick in the butt for people who will otherwise spend all day tweeting and it also lets them know that disciplinary action will be taken if things get out of control. Hopefully it won’t come to that but, well, we all have our days of crazy tweeting. I mean, I don’t. But I hear others do. ;)

Those are some of the highlights of Outspoken Media’s forthcoming Social Media Policy. How does ours compare with the policy you have for your company? Anything you can’t believe we missed or don’t cover? Let us know.

Your Comments

  • Jacque

    Great tips! I just had to write a social media policy myself, and I completely agree with your points. Policy gets touchy when you’re telling people all the things they can’t do – especially in social media when you’re expecting them to show off some personality. I decided to spend the first and biggest portion of our policy on a purpose statement, and what the employees can do in the social media space as a way to empower participation. Inevitably, I had to include the no no’s to cover my butt, but those weren’t the meat of the document.

  • Kristy

    I love and have long been a fan of the idea around making social media policy’s a tool for empowerment and education rather than a tool of constraint. Yay!!!!

  • Rosa Lu

    Wonderful advice! We just recently updated our Social Media Policy. One big thing we had to reiterate was that if you decide you want to accept a friend request from a client on Facebook it is important that you are professional at ALL times! Not just Monday – Friday 9-5. Posting a status of how ‘wasted” you are on a Saturday night reflects on the company regardless of if you are on the clock or not. Our advice for that: suggest that they follow you on a professional Twitter account or Linked In instead.

  • Aussiewebmaster

    oh please… Lisa you are so a personal attacker – granted they usually deserve it and more… and we love you for it

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    You make a good point, making everyone see the goal clearly before engaging in any social media presence. Once that’s set, it’s a lot easier to find some common ground to all work together towards it.
    My employees have a mostly personal presence in social media, but when they do participate on behalf of the company (doesn’t happen often, but it happens) I make sure they know what they are doing, and they are more than happy to be “part of it”, so to say.

    Especially during the preparation of videos for our blog, the participation of the team is a very happy moment in the company’s life.
    We have come to this in time though, doesn’t happen overnight, and I can name at least one occasion during which I had to phone a member of my team to tell him to take something back off his Facebook regarding some client (not directly named, but clear enough if you know about it). That was an embarrassing incident but you learn from mistakes, more often than not.

    Productivity usually isn’t a problem, I mean, they sure use social media for personal reasons as well but we have deadlines, and if they are not screwed up, everything’s fine.
    I don’t like strict policies like blocking Facebook access or stuff like that, they wouldn’t work out good for our needs and there’s always a better way around that.

  • Pat McCarthy

    Great post Lisa! At WOMMA, we developed a social media policy template designed to help craft social policies. Thought it might help you and your readers.

    Hope it helps!

    Pat McCarthy
    Social Media Coordinator

  • Peter Rees

    Great post. I strongly believe in the creation of social media policies as a enabler for most companies. Far too many organisations seem to be determined to block the use of social platforms as some ill conceived means of protecting themselves. This is no more than a throwback to the time when use of the internet was banned in the workplace, something we would consider inconceivable today.
    I hope they learn quickly enough, a good policy helps enormously.

  • Mike Roberts

    I have nothing important to add to this discussion, just tossing my two cents in the bucket for the hell of it. See, my last job’s internet policy was you cannot use it at work; do not tweet or post about anything you do, see or know that is potentially work related; and only two people will ever have access to social media while in the office and specifically for search purposes… Of course, that was a Law Firm so its a different universe.

    Now my current job has a NDA but otherwise I seem to have more freedom of internet usage than others here as long as it doesn’t interfere with my job. Case in point, I’m here now during work because I was asked to start reading more SEO related sites and blogs (we all know I really come here cause its Lisa) but I shouldn’t be on Facebook and Twitter since it has nothing to do with my job responsibilities and we have a guy who specifically does that for us under the brand name.

    In my personal life on the internet I live by two rules: one I learned from 4chan and /b/, the other is Wheaton’s Law. Any self-respecting geek should know Wheaton’s Law as the statement “Don’t be a dick” as codified by Wesley Crusher… err Wil Wheaton. The 4chan (yes its a horrible awful place that you should never admit to frequenting and block your children from ever accessing no matter how wondrous and hilarious it can be) rule I follow is “Don’t feed the trolls.” People will continue to cause trouble on the internet due to anonymity but there are people just like them in real life. They’re the people who you purposely don’t acknowledge because you know they do it only for attention (“for the lulz”).

    Personally I think that people in an office setting need access to Facebook, Twitter and other personal sites for the sake of their sanity. Its like giving a smoker a cigarette break. Every now and then you need to push back from that desk, queue up some sites, and decompress before getting back to work. But its those people that do it every 5 minutes or spend an hour on FB when they should have been working who are the issue. Take everything on a case by case basis but having the umbrella policy as the guideline is a good jumping off point. And once your company is big enough, delegate it to someone else so you don’t need to be the “bad guy” anymore.