WRITTEN BY ANDREW JENKINS, FOUNDER AT VOLTERRA
The barrier between personal and professional life has increasingly blurred in today’s digital world. Missteps on social media can have dire consequences for not just individual employees but also for the organization as a whole. As someone who’s closely monitored the rise and influence of social media in various sectors, I can’t stress enough how vital a well-crafted policy is for mitigating risks and leveraging opportunities.
Table of Contents
- What is a Social Media Policy?
- How I Review Existing Social Media Policies
- Why do You Need a Social Media Policy for Employees?
- Social Media in the Workplace
- What to Include in a Social Media Policy
- Benefits of Having a Social Media Policy
- Scope of a Social Media Policy
- Addressing Security and Privacy within a Corporate Social Media Policy
- The Key Differences between Social Media Policy and Social Media Guidelines
- Social Media Policy Development
- Personal Social Media use as it Relates to Company Policy
What is a Social Media Policy?
A social media policy is a set of guidelines that directs the actions of an organization’s employees, contractors, and affiliates when interacting on social media platforms. This critical document ensures that everyone involved understands the expectations, responsibilities, and potential repercussions of their online behavior, both during work hours and outside them.
How I Review Existing Social Media Policies
I’ve seen firsthand how critical it is for organizations to have clear social media guidelines in place for employees using social platforms. A corporate social media policy sets forth rules and best practices for how employees should conduct themselves online, especially when posting content related to their work.
Based on my experience, the most effective social media policies provide practical guidance while allowing some flexibility. They outline expectations for professionalism and ethics, without being overly rigid or restrictive. I advise crafting policies that empower employees to humanize the brand and make authentic connections, while also protecting the company’s reputation and assets.
When I assist clients with creating a corporate social media policy, there are several key areas I ensure are addressed:
By consulting with legal counsel and collaboratively developing social media guidelines, organizations can craft strong yet flexible social media policies. This gives employees the confidence and support to be active brand advocates online while protecting the company and its customers.
Why do You Need a Social Media Policy for Employees?
Having a clearly defined social media policy for employees is absolutely essential. Without guidelines in place, brands open themselves up to major risks – from PR crises to legal issues and beyond. Based on what I’ve seen working closely with organizations on their social media presence, there are several compelling reasons why taking the time to create a comprehensive social media policy is a must.
To protect your company’s reputation
I’ve seen how a single inappropriate social media post from an employee can spiral into a news headline that damages trust with customers. A social media policy makes clear what type of content and conduct is unacceptable.
To minimize legal liability
There are many potential pitfalls, from copyright infringement to sharing confidential information, that employees may run into on social platforms. A tightly crafted social media policy helps limit hazardous situations.
To create efficiency by removing guesswork
When employees are empowered to act as brand advocates yet know where to draw the line, it provides helpful guidance so they can focus on driving impactful initiatives.
To ensure compliance
Government regulations regarding areas like accessibility are increasingly applying to social media. A social media policy helps ensure these legal requirements are met. And on a practical level, a policy gives managers recourse. If an employee repeatedly ignores social media guidelines, their social media access can be restricted or revoked per the policy terms, or worse, there could be disciplinary action.
The risks of not having a social media policy in place vastly outweigh the small time investment to create one. Employees will appreciate clear expectations, and brands will rest easier knowing policies provide critical protection.
Social Media in the Workplace
When developing social media strategies for diverse companies, I’ve seen the rapid evolution of how social platforms are impacting workplaces. There are new opportunities emerging, but also complicated challenges that organizations must thoughtfully navigate.
There are a few key considerations I recommend keeping top of mind:
If cultivated thoughtfully, social media can be a strategic asset that empowers employees to become influential brand advocates. By implementing supportive policies and opportunities for open dialogue, companies can fully leverage social’s potential as an impactful element enriching modern workplaces.
What to Include in a Social Media Policy
When helping organizations develop a social media policy, there are several key sections I advise covering in depth based on best practices I’ve refined over time:
The most watertight policies I’ve been involved with maintain that fine balance between enabling employees while also establishing prudent protections.
Benefits of Having a Social Media Policy
When helping companies develop and implement social media policies, I’ve seen the myriad benefits they can provide when done right.
Based on the positive outcomes clients have achieved, some of the major advantages of investing time in a thoughtful social media policy include:
Organizations that view social media policies as enabling – not restrictive – are best positioned to unlock their benefits. Employees are hungry to connect authentically with customers. Policies give them the framework to do so effectively and safely.
Scope of a Social Media Policy
When working with a client on developing their social media policy, one of the first areas I advise focusing on is properly scoping the guidelines. Clearly delineating the policy’s scope provides clarity for both management and employees as they put the rules into practice.
Some key considerations to focus on regarding social media policy scope include:
I believe that organizations with air tight policies take the time to delineate an appropriate, realistic scope that fits their culture and needs. They avoid being either too general or granular in outlining who and what is covered by the guidelines. I recommend periodically revisiting and updating the established scope as priorities evolve.
Addressing Security and Privacy within a Corporate Social Media Policy
When organizations are developing their social media policies, I make it a priority to provide concrete guidance around security and privacy based on hard lessons I’ve learned consulting in these areas. Some of the key considerations I advise covering related to safeguarding security and privacy include:
The policies I feel most confident in outline security and privacy safeguards tailored specifically to an organization’s needs and concerns. By being vigilant in these areas, the benefits of social media engagement can be fully realized without undue risk.
The Key Differences between Social Media Policy and Social Media Guidelines
|Social Media Policy
|Social Media Guidelines
|More rigid regulations stating what employees “shall not” do
|Flexible guidance empowering employees on best practices
|Focused on avoiding risks and missteps
|Focused on training employees to succeed
|Sets strict rules employees must follow
|Provides recommendations employees should follow
|Consequences for violations clearly outlined
|Encourages learning over punishment
|Tone is authoritarian
|Tone aims to enable employees
|Less room for interpretation
|Some discretion left to employees
|Formal approval process
|Can be developed collaboratively
|Slower to develop and update
|More agile development process
|Covers most serious compliance issues
|Covers day-to-day social media use
|Legal team heavily involved
|Broader team involvement
|Required for all employees
|Optional for some employees
Social Media Policy Development
Clearly addressing appropriate corporate use of these platforms within policies is crucial. The guidance I commonly provide to organizations includes:
The most balanced policies I’ve developed enable corporate social media use that humanizes a brand while also safeguarding its reputation. Employees should feel comfortable participating professionally when aligned with company standards.
Personal Social Media use as it Relates to Company Policy
One of the more complex areas of social media policies involves providing clear guidance around personal social media use. Based on the many policies I’ve been involved with, I recommend covering the following areas related to employees’ personal accounts:
The most effective policies take into account personal rights while still establishing prudent protections. My goal is always for employees to feel trusted as brand ambassadors even during non-work interactions.
In summary, a corporate social media policy takes a mandatory, rules-based approach to minimize risks while guidelines offer flexible guidance to help employees succeed. Both clarify expectations around social media use but policies are more rigid while guidelines aim to enable.
Even smaller companies need to have some basic policies and governance in place. The requirements may not be as robust as for a large corporation, but having clear guidelines and oversight is important for any business using social media, regardless of size.
Aim to review social media policies and governance procedures at least annually. More frequent reviews may be warranted if your social media use is rapidly evolving or you experience issues highlighting gaps that need addressing sooner.
Seek input from key departments like Marketing, HR, Legal, Compliance and IT to cover all potential angles and get buy-in. Also incorporate feedback from employees expected to follow the policies.
The policies must clearly state that adherence is mandatory. Employees who repeatedly violate policies should face disciplinary action as laid out in the guidelines, up to and including termination of employment in serious cases.
Yes, legal counsel should review policies to ensure they are allowable and do not violate labor laws or employee rights. Overly broad policies that restrict protected activities could expose the company to legal claims.
Document procedures clearly and provide training to employees. Also designate specific individuals to be accountable for overseeing and enforcing governance protocols. Audit periodically.
Solutions like social media management systems provide oversight capabilities like pre-scheduling and approval workflows. Social media monitoring tools also help track social media policy compliance.
About the author
Andrew Jenkins is an International Speaker, Podcast Host, University Instructor and a founder at Volterra, a Social Media Management Agency. Andrew has been teaching social media marketing strategies for enterprises at the University of Toronto for the past ten years. He is also the author of ‘Social Media Marketing for Business: Scaling an Integrated Social Media Strategy Across Your Organization.’