Should Your Small Business Have a Social Media Policy?

by Liz Magill on May 3, 2011
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Coca Cola and FedEx have one, as does Intel, Reuters, and Tufts College. Even the Cleveland Clinic, American Red Cross, and Easter Seals realize the importance of having one. We’re talking about a social media policy, also referred to as an internet posting policy, blogging policy, code of online participation, and a slew of other names. And according to Bottom Line Law Group attorney Antone F. Johnson, you should have one too.

Here are some of the most common reasons supporting a company-wide social media policy.

  • It prevents divulging of trade secrets – Given the speed and ease with which employees can spread information about their company’s products and services through their social networks, businesses need to protect themselves. Nowhere is this more important than with the inadvertent slip of proprietary information or a trade secret on a Facebook or Twitter post.
  • It protects your company’s reputation – These days, many businesses have an official company blogger, and some have an unofficial one too. Social media can help propel a small business forward, create a buzz around a brand, and cause sales to skyrocket. It can also damage a company’s reputation almost as fast when someone speaks out of turn or without thinking.
  • It helps you avoid customer defamation – When waitress Ashley Johnson trash talked one of her restaurant customers on her Facebook page, she was fired for “breaking company policy forbidding insulting customers” and “speaking ill about the company on social networks.” The result of the incident: Johnson was fired and the restaurant was the subject of a string of negative media stories. Disgruntled employees that once vented to coworkers at the water cooler now gripe about work grievances via Twitter, Facebook, personal blogs, and on YouTube. A properly worded and communicated social media policy can help to curb this.
  • It clears up grey areas — Employees often admit that they are not exactly sure what they can — and cannot say — about their company to their social networks. A social media policy can take the guesswork out of what is appropriate for employees to post to their followers and contacts, including photos where your business is concerned.
  • It encourages employees to use social media positively – Small business owners and their employees shouldn’t think of a social media policy as a long list of restrictions or an attempt at gagging employees’ speech. Instead, a social media policy should be thought of a launching pad to encourage positive product, brand, and company awareness. Remember: Employees can be one of the most effective ambassadors for your business. Ultimately, you want them to talk about you!

If you’re interested in creating a social media policy for your small business, take a look at the 170-plus social media policies of some well-known companies supplied in the Social Media Governance database.

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