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How to write a Social Media Policy to empower employees

Does your company have a social media policy? Are employees confused about what they can and can’t post?

Social media policies must meet company and legal requirements, but should include open opportunities for employees to support your social media efforts.

Why a Social Media Policy?

Research shows that a majority of employees are willing to share company information -they’re just not sure what to share because they don’t want to get in trouble.

A constructive company-wide social media policy will answer questions and encourage employees to add support on social media whenever possible.

Here are nine components of an effective, empowering social media policy.

1: Consider Corporate Culture

Your corporate culture has been built over years. It defines company beliefs, behaviours and expectations. Keep that in mind as you prepare to write (or rewrite) a social media policy.

Find out which other company policies (e.g., HR and IT) may overlap with your new social media efforts.

Whether those existing policies cover confidential information, harassment, technology, recordkeeping or other activities, be sure you know which ones you’re expected to integrate into the social media tenets.

The question now becomes how do you plan to incorporate those (possibly strict) policies with a new policy meant to encourage more employee engagement on social media?

The company’s existing expectations must carry over into the new policy to avoid confusion, over-sharing and company risk.

2: Get Executive and Departmental Buy-In

Set up a meeting and invite major stakeholders within your organisation and delegates from the necessary departments. At the minimum, make sure to have representatives from human resources, legal, communications and information technology.

During the meeting, discuss the policy writing and approval process. Emphasis the potential of socially active employees - the importance of sharing product announcements and launches, possible front-line listening and engagement and sharing recruiting announcements.

Re-emphasise your points by sharing success stories from businesses with socially empowered employees in other similar organisations.

3: Determine the Scope

A well-written policy starts with a firm plan. Defining the scope of your social media policy guides the entire process and any subsequent changes.

Answer these questions:

Does the company want multiple policies to address various departments and networks; one combined detailed policy; or one general policy to apply to the company as a whole?

As you’re deciding, keep in mind that the policy you’re writing is for 'general employees.' There should be a separate policy that applies solely to the social media team (with extra leeway since they’re heading up the projects). The social media team’s policy should include at least a style guide, playbook and internal strategy.

You can leave these special provisions out of your general policy to keep it short.

4: Research relevant Laws

Navigating how laws affect your company’s social media policy takes time, but it is imperative. You don’t want to be fined for not abiding by the law.

Keep an eye out for concerns from your stakeholders and department heads. For instance, as some companies develop social media policies, they claim they need access to employees’ personal social media usernames and passwords to ensure company confidentiality is kept.

In short, make sure you talk to your legal department to ensure you’re not infringing on employee rights.

5: Clarify Policy Rules

Your goal, of course, is to empower employees to be active on social media channels and support the company in positive ways. As you move forward, you may find that employees are often willing to help share company information, but may not know what to share or how.

You can help them by clarifying known issues and asking them for additional questions about social media.

Give everyone a chance to ask questions and share concerns.

Crowdsourcing those questions ensures everyone is on the same page. For instance, you may think employees have questions about whether to share particular web pages, when in fact they have more basic questions- should they like the company Facebook page? Can the company see or mandate their personal posts?

6: Address Professional and Personal Use

There are a host of questions to consider regarding professional and personal use of social media. When can employees use social media during the workday? Are they allowed to post personal updates during business hours (e.g., during lunch or on a break)?

Define the extent of acceptable social media use in the office. Some companies have dual policies based on employee type - e.g., back-office and administrative professionals are able to use social during business hours, but hourly employees are not.

Clarify expected behaviors and uses of social media. Image: Shutterstock.

Departments directly involved with social media marketing should have provisions that allow them to access social media channels as needed.

Address whether employees need to disclose their association with the company when posting company information. Include acceptable posting standards for people who could be seen as representing your company on social media.

Encourage appropriate personal updates (after hours) when including company references. Remember, you can’t regulate what employees do in their free time, but you can make suggestions.

7: Keep it Short

So far you’ve consulted with key players; researched company policy, laws; collected employee questions; and established guidelines for social media use during business hours.

That much information could easily fill a binder or two. For your extensive policy that’s fine - and you should have a copy of it housed in the appropriate departments.

However, if you distribute that comprehensive policy to employees, it’s unlikely they’ll read it - it will end up on a shelf somewhere gathering dust.

More importantly, if the social media guidelines are over two pages, most employees will probably be confused and will be less likely to engage in the company’s social media efforts.

My tip for reducing the size of your policy: Rather than including specific rules about confidentiality, harassment or other areas already covered by existing policies, briefly mention them and encourage employees to read those policies separately.

8: Train Employees

Even after you distribute a short version of your social media guidelines, you’ll need to take the time to train employees.

That training will undoubtedly include frank discussions on limitations. Break up any perceived negativity by including inspiring and empowering elements.

Training your team sets them up for success. Make social media relevant to employees by explaining that it’s actually good for business - it helps speed sales cycles and increase close rates. Employees may not realise that the average Facebook user is in their 40s - not teenagers!

Including these elements helps motivate employees to get started on social.

9: Launch the Social Media Policy

Have a social media policy launch to get people excited and raise awareness about your renewed focus on employee engagement.

Over to You

Crafting a social media policy that meets company and legal limitations, empowers employees and is short and sweet is quite an undertaking.

Managing its development requires listening to a number of contributors and distilling the important parts into a short, easily understood policy that reduces risk for the company and gives employees the freedom to support the company.

The new policy can be a rallying cry to help employees across the organization understand social media, increase activity and help create a more socially active company.

Eric T. Tung

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