Feb 6

Yes, you do need a social media policy – yesterday

The call came last week as it often does – over lunch, the client a little frazzled, the request immediate: Someone’s posting ugly comments on our Facebook page.

My response, as it always is – we’re on it, we’ll take a look right now, send us your social media policy.


We don’t have a social media policy.

Insert any number of excuses here – we’re working on one, we’ve been thinking about one, we’re too busy to develop one, we don’t need one, and the list goes on.

I’m not a huge proponent of policies, contracts or SOPs. I fall into the J.C. Huizenga school that believes a handshake is the best contract because you can’t go back on a handshake. But when it comes to social media, if your company is going to engage, you need a policy.

And if you don’t have one, you need it yesterday.

Social media is, by its nature, a dialogue. For social media to work well, you need to tag people and organizations, share dynamic photos and relevant articles, pose thought-provoking questions and promote success stories – in other words, work to create a dialogue with your stakeholders.

A social media policy provides the framework for you and your employees to engage productively in that dialogue. When you open yourself up to the vast expanse of the Internet, you’re not sure who’s going to respond. But you need to know how YOU will respond – and that’s where a good social media policy comes in.

Your social media policy should:

  • Borrow from best practices: If you are new to social media, find someone who is not and ask about their pain points. There’s a decade-plus of commentary online that shares successes and mistakes.
  • Frame public expectations: Unless your Facebook page is going to be monitored 24/7, set parameters for when and how you will respond to posts. We have a client who has a four-day work week, so we let people know they can expect a response during our business hours – and then provide them other resources if they are reaching out after hours.
  • Provide guidelines for employee engagement: This one is a bit stickier as employers cannot – indeed, should not – tell employees how to behave in their private lives. However it’s appropriate to outline who can and who cannot represent your organization on social media. It’s also appropriate to remind employees what’s out of bounds when it comes to company accounts, such as not sharing confidential information. Finally, it’s appropriate to remind employees of the principles of engagement, which should dovetail with your brand and culture. Approaching social media engagements with honesty, integrity, respect, professionalism – well, you get.
  • Establish rules of public engagement: If someone posts an unflattering comment on Facebook, what will you do? What if that comment starts a conversation with others who are unhappy and the thread goes on and on? What if an angry customer starts tweeting at you, how do you respond? What if she creates a hashtag to amplify her displeasure and encourages friends to share it? Your social media policy should lay out expectations for civil discourse, then explain the steps you will take if someone violates those expectations.
  • Comply with state and federal regulations: If you work for a healthcare company, you better understand – and not violate – HIPAA. If you are in education, it’s FERPA. Then there’s copyright, fair use and libel. Be sure your policy – and your posts – comply with the appropriate regulations. Always a good idea to have your attorney involved throughout the process.
  • Reflect who you are: Social media is just another channel to reach your stakeholders. Whether you are on SnapChat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, your brand is your brand. Be sure you present a consistent brand no matter when, how or where you engage.
  • Allow for mistakes: Face it, someone is going to make a mistake – they will post on the wrong account, share information before it supposed to be public or just plain say the wrong thing. Your organization need to be open, honest and transparent in dealing with mistakes as they arise. Our handy three-step guide goes like this: Acknowledge, apologize and explain how it won’t happen again.

In the case that I mentioned at the beginning, a well-intentioned employee saw an unpleasant comment on the company’s Facebook page. That employee removed the comment and banned the user without checking with anyone first.

So what happened? The banned party, now angry, enlisted a friend – who posted an even more shrill comment. Fortunately, the client reached out to us at that point and we were able to share best practices in dealing with unhappy comments that avoided creating a Medusa effect.

After this storm passes, I’m hopeful the next step for this client will be to create a social media policy, have it blessed by legal counsel and then share with employees.

But if not, SPR is there – and we never mind having lunch interrupted.

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