Increasingly, companies need to adapt their codes of conduct and employee manuals with guidelines for employee participation on the social web.
While you might have roles that are “officially” social media related, every person in your company is now a potential spokesperson. And if they’re active online in any way at all, you want to be prepared for those inevitable interactions with customers, as well as help people understand what’s acceptable, what’s encouraged, and what’s frowned upon when they’re engaging in social media on behalf of your company.
In addition to thorough and continuous training to immerse your teams in the culture and practice of the social web, having a clear set of guidelines can make things a heck of a lot easier. They don’t have to be complicated (many are less than a page), but they do have to touch on a few key areas.
I’m a fan of having a set of “policies” which are the more rules-y type items, and then a set of principles or guidelines that can help give your teams the spirit and flavor of your participation in social media. While policies by their nature tend to spell out the legal and procedural stuff, the guidelines can talk more about why social media matters to your organization, and all of the potential it holds to get people excited and motivated to participate.
Let’s have a look at the basic elements of social media policies and guidelines.
Realistically, you know you’re going to have people contributing to social media. What are your expectations for that, and what should employees keep in mind? This is a good time to point to your code of ethics or code of conduct as a company and reiterate the applicable bits around social media.
Help your employees understand the importance of identifying themselves in social media, with something as simple as their name and company in blog signatures or their social network bios when they’re interacting on behalf of your company.
3. Required Training
If completion of education or internal training is required in order to participate in social media on behalf of your organization, spell that out. Also, point employees to resources, a social media governance council, or other people and information that can help them do so properly.
4. Confidential and Proprietary Information
It’s a good idea to remind folks what constitutes confidential or proprietary information inside your company, and that they’re not to share that via social networks or in public online forums at any time. This can be an extension of the policies you lay out in your employee handbook.
6. The Law
As social media goes mainstream, you’ll see more things like the FTC’s Endorsement & Testimonial Guidelines cropping up, in addition to any communication regulations that affect your particular industry. Keep your employees informed about where they can find those, and how they might affect their participation in social media on behalf of the company.
7. Company Time
Can employees blog, tweet, or use LinkedIn on their company time if they’re not part of an official social media team? How are you hoping that they’ll do so, and what are your caveats or conditions? Your employees are likely using social media during work hours anyway, so helping them understand what’s acceptable is a constructive, progressive way to keep everyone headed in the same direction.
8. Account Ownership
If people have social media accounts when they join your company, they’re going to have a reasonable expectation that they still own those when they leave (much like their rolodex or personal email contact list). If there’s *any* gray area here with employees that tweet, blog, or have forum accounts that are for the purposes of representing your company in an official, branded capacity, it’s best to discuss that up front and determine how to transition, close, or amend those accounts should there be a separation of employment.
If someone runs into an issue, question, or confrontation that they can’t individually or personally handle, what’s the appropriate path for them to take? Is there a contact chart or other procedures they should follow to report that information or take it to another member of the team? Check out the Air Force’s flowchart that helps them assess their online responses.
Uncomfortable as it may be, articulate potential consequences for employees that violate your social media policy or guidelines so that, in the unfortunate event that you have to take disciplinary action for something, you’ve got that in writing somewhere.
Give your employees an idea of why you as a company are participating in social media, and what your overall goals and expectations are for that participation. Giving everyone a shared sense of purpose can help them self-govern their participation, and know whether what they’re doing is aligned with your organization’s goals. Point out what your “official” company social media channels are and where people can find them, as well as what role they serve and what individuals or teams are behind them.
2. Your Social Media Voice
Is your social media participation irreverent and fun, like Moosejaw? Are you helpful and friendly like JetBlue is on Twitter? Are you more official and conservative? Share with your employees the spirit and attitude behind your social media participation, and the personality that you’re hoping to portray as a company. That can help them find an individual voice that feels comfortable for them but that fits right in.
3. Taking Part
If your employees are interested in social media but new to it, help them understand what good contribution and participation looks like. Do you have a team of “social media mentors” they can go to in order to learn about specific tools? If they’re interested in blogging for the company, where are your best posts, and how can they be considered for participation? Are there training courses or education classes provided, and where can they be found?
4. Response Guidelines
Do you moderate comments? Do you respond to every mention, or just those that suit certain criteria? Do you treat Twitter differently than LinkedIn Groups or Facebook, and what are the basics of participating in each of those communities? Do you have guidelines for response times? These questions are usually more suited to your official teams and individuals responsible for social media engagement, but even sharing them with your employees at large can give them more and better information to guide their own participation.
5. Disagreements & Negative Commentary
They happen. Whether it’s a grumpy person that’s having a bad customer service experience to one of the infamous “internet trolls” out to get a rise out of someone, educate your teams about what that looks like, and how you’re expecting them to respond. It’s one of the biggest fears of most social media participants, but one that can be handled well with some teaching and guidance.
Explain to your employees about the potential of the web, but why that means that every individual is responsible for their part in creating a positive, constructive social media environment. Talk about everyone being a brand ambassador, and what you’re hoping each person can help your company do and be through their participation. Keep it positive, and full of potential while reminding them that they can and do play a pivotal role all on their own.
7. Idea Sharing
If your employees are enthusiastic about social media, that’s a good thing. Give them forums and avenues to share their ideas, to contribute to something larger, and to feel as though they can make a positive contribution to your efforts. The more you help guide their participation and encourage their efforts, the more likely they’ll be to become a true asset to your social media endeavors.
Want some examples of social media guidelines? Dave Fleet (client) recently posted a list of 57 of the ones he’s found, and Social Media Governance has a long list of policies and guidelines from a number of different companies of all sizes and shapes.
So what would you add? Do you have policies for your organization, and what challenges are you having putting them in place? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.