In this ever-evolving age of technology, a social media policy is critical for any small business.
However, many small businesses don’t have one.
While 74 percent of adults use social media, about 73 percent of companies don’t have an official social media policy.
This opens up your small business to inconsistent brand voice and various risks (both legal and PR-wise).
In the simplest terms, your social media policy features an official document that outlines how an organization and its employees should conduct themselves online. Even if your small business doesn’t use social media (although we highly recommend that it does in some way), your employees likely do, and their conduct online can reflect back on your business, for better or worse.
Because a social media policy applies to everyone within your company, it needs to be clear and easy to understand. Often, you would include your policy with other onboarding materials for new employees. However, you should plan to orient all existing employees as well if you’re now creating and implementing one.
It’s important to know that while a social media policy can be all-encompassing, it typically can have two goals:
- Protect and maintain the company’s brand voice
- Guard against social media risks
In other words, the do’s and don’ts, if you will.
While this process can feel daunting at first, the following are seven expert tips to help you create a social media policy that works for your small business. Plus, we include some examples of social media policies from large organizations to help inspire you.
Identify your goals for a social media policy
What are you hoping to achieve with a social media policy? What are your business’s biggest challenges when it comes to social media?
Take a moment to write down the biggest needs, whether that’s actual social media use during work hours, expectations of online conduct outside of the workplace, the establishment of a crisis management plan to refer to whenever it might be needed or anything else.
Of course, you’ll want to pull in any relevant stakeholders to get ideas, questions and concerns as well. The more inclusive you can make any new policy, the more reflective it will be of those it will impact and the easier it will be to implement.
There is no limit to the goals you want to achieve. Just keep in mind that each goal likely will require its own section in your social media policy for the best clarity possible.
Clearly establishing what you hope to accomplish with your policy will help set the overall tone for social media use within your small business.
Also, check in on your company’s core values. Any new policy of any kind should work in tandem with them.
Depending on your overall goals, you truly can pick and choose which of the following topics or sections you should include (or not).
Consider roles and responsibilities within your company
This is all about who can speak for your brand on social media and who can’t.
You can get a nitty gritty as you like by outlining:
- Who owns which social media accounts
- Who is responsible for what on a daily, weekly, monthly or as-needed basis
- Contact information for those in key roles
- Any social media training
- Overall social media strategy
- How posting and engagement are handled
- Social media advertising
- Customer service expectations
- How social media listening is conducted
- Any required approval process
But, at the same time, you also can just focus on the aspects that fit your goals and brand needs best.
Explain security protocols
While its scope expands far beyond just social media (and might ultimately require its own separate policy document), online security is only becoming increasingly important for every small business to at least think through.
But it’s even better to communicate your security protocols to your employees and how they can identify and deal with any risks as well.
You might want to address:
- How often account passwords should be changed
- What devices can be used on the company network
- Whether employees can use personal social media accounts on company devices
- The procedure for moving access to branded social accounts when an employee leaves the company
But again, if you feel like the overall topic of online security deserves its own policy document, feel free to separate it out to provide for better focus and clarity of your social media policy.
Walk through a crisis management plan
Similar to online security, a social media crisis management plan can easily earn its own separate policy document rather than being forced into your general social media policy.
But that preference is up to you.
If you are touching on any sort of crisis management plan, be sure to consider:
- Guidelines to help identify the scope of the crisis
- An internal communication plan, with an up-to-date emergency contact list that includes specific roles
- The approval process for response(s)
Even just keeping it simple and identifying the process that should happen if a crisis of any size happens, that will help your company be that much more responsive.
Identify various potential legal questions and issues
Depending on your industry and even your state or country of operations, the types of legal questions and issues can vary widely.
More than anything, you should consult with legal counsel to ensure that you’re covering all your bases.
But, in general, you’ll want to think about:
- Copyright law on social media (particularly with the use of any third-party content)
- The handling of customer information and other private data
- How internal company information is handled
- Restrictions and/or disclaimers surrounding testimonials or marketing claims
Share expectations for employees’ personal social media accounts
There is a delicate line to walk here since we are talking about personal (and not professional) social media accounts. In addition, you’ll want to keep in mind that some personal accounts can be linked back to your company, while others would not be by the casual social media user.
All that being said, some aspects that you might want to address include:
- Whether it’s permitted to mention the company in profile bios (and if so, what disclaimers about content representing personal rather than corporate opinions are required)
- Guidelines about any post content that shows the workplace or work uniform (if applicable)
- Whether it’s required to identify as an employee when discussing the company or its competitors on social media
The trickiness here is that employees are perceived as representatives of your brand in general (and that perception spreads so much further online), so balance that with the obvious right employees have to share their personal opinions on their personal social media accounts. It’s a gray zone, for sure. But the conversation is worth having up front so that you can better address sticky situations as they might arise.
Some key aspects you might want to at least consider:
- Inappropriate jokes
- Inflammatory comments or obscenity
- Offensive images
- Discriminatory remarks
Specify what employee advocacy can look like
While your social media team and any spokespeople understand your brand’s voice and how to answer tough questions posed by customers and others, it’s likely that your other employees do not.
See this as an opportunity to guide your employees who are excited about their work to be some of your best brand advocates online.
Some questions you can address include:
- Can regular employees engage with people mentioning the brand on social media platforms? Or, should that be directed to the social media team to handle? What’s the process for that?
- How should regular employees handle negative comments about the brand on social media, or should the social media team be notified instead? What does that process look like?
- Is there an approved content library that regular employees can access and use? If so, how?
- How and when should an employee share company news or information about a new product?
The key is to keep this guidance as clear and straightforward as possible. Remember, you’re speaking to the employees who do not live and breathe your social media, but for those who do want to advocate for you, it’s important to give them a path to do so that works for the brand, not against it.
Social media policy examples
For inspiration, here are a handful of publicly available social media policies and other company conduct guidelines from large organizations:
Once you’ve launched (or relaunched) your social media policy, you’ll want to make sure that it’s readily accessible for all employees to refer to anytime they need. Also, commit to regular updates (whether that’s quarterly or annually) since social media is rapidly evolving.
And, of course, you must make the commitment to enforce your policy. Otherwise, it’s just a pretty document that doesn’t really mean anything. For overall clarity and accountability, it might be helpful to include how you will enforce the social media policy.
Remember that while this is an official policy that you’re creating (or revamping) for your small business, the more input and buy-in you can get along the way, the better. It’s easy to miss some of the key questions when we’re only looking through our own perspective. Granted, you don’t have to ask every single employee what they think at each step of creating your policy, but gathering a group of key stakeholders for their input will help you create a social media policy that is truly reflective not only of your goals but of your team as well.
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