Does My Small Business Need a Social Media Policy?

by Michael Ansaldo on May 3, 2013
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The benefits of using social media for business get touted a lot, but the risks associated with doing so are mentioned far less often. This is unfortunate, because the casual nature of the social web and the permanence of the internet can be a recipe for disaster.

Corporate giants like IBM, Wells Fargo, and Yahoo [PDFs] mitigate the risks by creating — and enforcing — social media policies that govern employee behavior online. Does your little old company’s Facebook profile really warrant its own set of rules? This short answer is yes.

Why You Need a Social Media Policy

Facebook has more than 1 billion users, and Twitter and LinkedIn have more than 200 million each. You can bet a good chunk of those people are your employees, customers, and competitors. One off-color tweet or  inappropriate video share by someone who represents your business can not only embarrass you, but also cause irreparable damage to your company’s reputation.

Instead of trying to police employees or blocking their access to social media sites at work, implement a social media policy. You’ll be better served by the latter, because you’ll empower your employees to leverage the power of social media in service of your brand, while reducing the chances of a PR crisis.

What Your Social Media Policy Should Cover

The purpose of any social media policy is simply to guide employees’ online behavior and, in doing so, protect your business. You can present this policy to workers as a set of guidelines, best practices, or ironclad rules. Whichever you choose, here are four basic steps to crafting an effective social media policy.

1. Define “social media.” The landscape of social media encompasses networks, blogs, podcasts, video sharing, microblogging, community forums, and more — and new tools sprout up constantly. You don’t need to develop best practices for each one, but you should communicate a consistent set of expectations that applies to all of your businesses’ social channels.

2. Identify your social media team. Although your policy should govern all employees, designate a few people who are responsible for your company’s social media efforts. This will make it easier to respond to customer queries and comments, stay on top of changing trends, and manage your company’s social persona.

3. Set ground rules. ­ This is the meat of your policy and can cover everything from what types of content are appropriate to how to respond to “trolls.” The goal here is to allow your employees to engage freely in social media while protecting your business. It’s a delicate balance: Be too permissive and you’ll leave yourself vulnerable; be too strict and you’ll risk coming across as a corporate automaton.

4. Provide training. The truth is the vast majority of social media gaffes are the result of mistakes, not maliciousness. If you expect your employees to use social media responsibly, it’s incumbent on you to show them how. Make sure your team members have access to training in social media best practices, so they can confidently and effectively represent your business online.

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