Why you need a social media policy

Social media guidelines are essential to establish boundaries and ensure your brand is correctly represented online

Social media has become a mainstream form of communication but it has caused a blurring of the lines between work and recreation on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. So is now the time to cut the confusion and establish some ground rules?

Crossing boundaries

There are a number of issues that highlight the difficulty in establishing social media boundaries in the workplace. One is that it is an established form of communication that is utilised by pensioners and teenagers alike. If you can take personal calls at work, why can’t you write and respond to personal tweets?

Another factor to consider is that social media is an important business tool, one that can energise a company’s marketing output, customer service, business development, sales and general communications. However, a spreadsheet still looks more appropriate on a screen during working hours than Facebook.

“Employees who are engaged on social media can act as brand ambassadors and attract new talent to your firm.” Dr Aleksej Heinze, Salford Business School.

A third, but certainly not final, aspect is that social media is so powerful that it can make or break organisations. Businesses that take a methodical approach to their online presence and campaigns, and have a clear view of desired outcomes, can reap huge rewards. On the other hand, those that use social media as a testing or dumping ground for indiscriminate information usually end up getting burned.

No option to opt out

Carolyn Blunt (@carolynblunt) is Managing Director of Real Results Training Consultancy, a people-development company that specialises in customer service training to businesses across the UK. Carolyn believes that every organisation needs a social media policy. “For social media to be used correctly in your workplace it is essential that a social media policy is put in place to protect your business. Training is vital for employees to understand how to use social media in the right way and what to do should a social media crisis occur.”

Dr Aleksej Heinze (@AleksejHeinze), Lecturer in Search and Social Media Marketing on Salford Business School’s MBA programme, agrees that a social media policy provides clear boundaries of behaviour to staff, and offers a better legal position for companies. A policy can also help to solidify social media as an asset for your business. “The ‘word-of-mouth’ and online communities developed around organisations are essential to help businesses grow and innovate through closer customer interaction,” says Aleksej. “Employees who are engaged on social media can act as brand ambassadors and attract new talent to your firm.”

What does a policy look like?

Once you have made the decision to implement a policy, it’s important to take time to think about what should be included. Clare Johnson, Account Director at Loudmouth PR, says social media guidelines should include the following:

  • Goals for overall social media activity
  • Guidance for activity/messaging for each channel
  • Guidance for tone of voice (per channel if appropriate i.e. Twitter will require a different tone to LinkedIn)
  • Amount of activity
  • How to engage/respond to customer comments
  • Crisis planning – this can include how and when to respond, and levels of response, depending on the event
  • Sign-off process (if required, i.e. for blogging)
  • Guidance for individuals using their own social media channels specifically if talking about the business – any policy or sanction implications around this

This information needs to be recorded in a clear and concise format so that everyone understands what is and isn’t acceptable. That way, there can be no comeback if the policy is overruled and people face disciplinary action. “Without social guidelines, it is difficult for a business to work to a set of goals and objectives for its social activity, which can be used as an extension and enhancement of its marketing activity,” says Clare. “This makes it difficult to measure whether its social activity is working and to identify which channels to focus on and which it could perhaps do without.”

A work in progress

Social media is constantly evolving, so it follows that social media guidelines should do the same. A formal annual review is recommended, as are more regular ad hoc checks when new sites – and new add-ons to existing sites – appear on the horizon.

A clear social media policy should be included as part of the welcome pack for new employees. It should explain the culture of the business and state what actions are encouraged, tolerated or prohibited. An absence of guidelines means staff will be left wondering what they can do online, or worse, they could cause a social media crisis that tells the world you should have given them better training.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK