Your Social Media Policy Could Determine Whether Your Business Lives Or Dies

Last updated: 2021-05-27 (originally published on 2019-10-29)   — by Sikhei Leung

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

If your business doesn’t have a social media policy, you’re late to the game.

In the age of around-the-clock binge consumption of online media, having a solid social media policy to guide your business is crucial. Here are some lovely reminder of what can go catastrophically wrong when there are no rules on social media use. 

Recent Facepalms

Remember Anthony’s Weiner’s wiener? The former US congressman ruined many eyes that could have been spared if the US House of Representatives had an able media policy that strongly discouraged people from posting photos of their bits on official Twitter accounts. Might sounds like common sense but it seems you’ve really got to write these guidelines down.

Would you like more ludicrous examples of the creative freedom from employees with access to the internet and a social media platform? Of course you would.

Our next candidate for employee of the year is Justine Sacco. She was a senior director of communications at IAC, a media corporation that owns over a dozen dating apps including Tinder and OKCupid. Before she boarded her flight to South Africa she tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”. She should have put that on her Tinder profile. 

Finally, we have Cameron Jankowski. At the time of his tweet,  he was an employee of Taco Bell. The man tweeted a photo of himself peeing on a plate of nachos. While Cameron, angel that he is, claims he never actually served the special nachos, Taco Bell’s reputation suffered nonetheless. 

The Lesson

I’m only just scratching the tip of the crazy iceberg—there are millions of examples out there. The lesson here is: develop a social media policy for your business, if you don’t already have one.  

Think of it like a dress code; if you want your employees to know what to wear to work,  you have to tell them. You can’t rely on common sense. And in the relatively new world of social media, the rules are not clear. If you want your employees to behave in a certain manner as representatives of your company, you have to spell it out.

That’s what a social media policy does. And it could be the life or death of your business.

Writing an effective Social Media Policy

A social media policy is a living document that provides guidelines for your organisation’s use of social media. This means it must cover every single aspect of social media use. From official posts from the company’s official social media accounts, to how those accounts interact with people online. As well as how employees use social media in their personal and professional capacities. One key thing to keep in mind is that a social media policy must be fluid—the dynamics of social media and the rapid pace of new technological advancement means that the policy has to evolve on paper to complement reality. 

It’s really only been in the last 3-4 years or so that social media policies have risen to prominence—so don’t feel bad if you’re just getting up to speed. It’s a brave new world out there.

Here are some tips:

Work and private life on social media are one and the same.

If they want to work here, make it clear. This does sound quite draconian and intrusive, but the reality is its child’s play to link a person and the company they work for. A 9-year-old with an iPad can do it.  Obviously what employees say in private messages remains private, but we’re talking about Instagram and Snapchat stories, Facebook posts, tweets, etc. What an employee posts for public consumption may impact the reputation of the company. This means there should be guidelines for what employees should and should not post. No hate speech, threats of violence, harassment, or racial epithets on social media that may violate the law, or your organisation’s code of ethics. It’s not to say that a social media policy will completely protect your business from what employees post. But often people have never been told what’s appropriate and what isn’t in the realm of social media and your business needs to have a policy that reflects its values and that everyone has been trained on. Then, as the employer, you can extend a healthy measure of trust in the execution. 

Hold regular workshops for your employees.

Let awareness of the social media policy be part of the company’s culture. Think about what  you want your clients to immediately associate with your brand. Educate employees on the company’s social media policy. Your employees may embrace or despise the social media policy but regardless of how they feel about it, they will remember it if you consistently bring it up. Use real-life examples to show them what happens when people don’t follow the rules and/or don’t use common sense. Feel free to draw inspiration from the severe ones above. 

Official Accounts

Have an official voice for the company and know what its message is.

Let’s now turn our focus on official company accounts on social media. First of all, if the company does not already have official social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, get right to it. Unify the company’s voice online by designating a spokesperson, or if  you possess the resources, an entire a client/customer relations team responsible for delivering a cohesive message to the public and managing the social media accounts. It’s good to have regular scheduled posts and updates about the company. Responses to comments left on official social media accounts should be left to the same person/team that is in charge of handling the company’s social media accounts, and employees need to know who they should refer online questions and comments. You can’t have several people saying different things simultaneously if you want a solid voice for your brand.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash
Define roles when managing social media accounts.

Know who’s in charge of daily posting and engagement, customer service strategy and planning, advertising, security and passwords. This limits any confusion, mistakes and redundancy across a large social media presence. 

Beware of private and confidential information.

It’s critical in this day an age to be acutely aware of how your company disseminates and shares personal data. The social media policy should also outline what data to share or not to share publicly. For example, if an irate customer starts ranting profusely on a Facebook post about how the company did not complete a refund for the beige shirt that they returned, don’t attempt to resolve the issue by chain replying to the comment. It’s likely that confidential information such as addresses, emails, names, and more must be exchanged in order for the complaint to be dealt with. Ask the customer politely to send a private message to the company instead. 

Have security protocols to ensure the security of the company’s social media accounts.

Have secure passwords for all your accounts and limit access to essential staff only. The social media policy should dictate how often passwords are updated. Also, you should update the apps regularly and make sure that the devices that are used to access official social media accounts are secure. If the person or team running the social media accounts has a technical or security issue, make sure the policy also has a procedure on how to deal with that.

Have a plan for when disaster strikes.

Okay, you’ve done everything to prevent things from going wrong, but things can still fall apart. Have a plan when that happens. What would be the appropriate PR response to a crisis? Who will be the point person leading the response? Have a think about these things and you’ll feel more prepared if something arises. Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with anything of the calibre of the examples above. 

Sikhei Leung is a law student and freelance writer. He holds a LL.M. in Human Rights from the School of Oriental and African Studies and a LL.B. from BPP University London. He also has a Psychology degree from Durham University.

This article does not constitute legal advice.

The opinions expressed in the column above represent the author’s own.

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Tags: SME | social media policy | startups | z-syndicate


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