Social Media Policy 101

What is a social media policy, and why is it important?

Welcome! We’re excited you’re here!

If you’re already comfortable with what a social media policy is and why it’s important, you can skip to the social media policy examples in Chapter 2.

For everyone else, this chapter will introduce you to the fundamentals of a social media policy and grow your confidence on the subject as you move forward.

What is a social media policy?

A social media policy describes how employees should behave online. The best social media policies not only protect company reputations, they also inspire employees to advocate for the company online.

Often a 1-2 page document that lives online or in a company’s intranet/handbook, a social media policy typically consists of a set of “Do’s” and “Don’ts”.

The policy should be simple and easy to understand. Your employees shouldn’t need to consult their lawyers to get the gist of it.

And importantly, your social media policy should evolve over time. You should revisit your policy on a regular basis (e.g. once every 6-12 months) and make changes as needed.

Simply put, an effective social media policy sets expectations with employees and eliminates confusion when it comes to sharing content online.

Why is a social media policy important?

This isn’t exactly breaking news, but social media is everywhere.

Employees are using social media in their personal lives. They’re using it at work. And they’re already talking about their employer online.

What do the numbers look like?

8 in 10 workers report using social media in the workplace.

And 98% of employees use at least one social media site for personal use, of which 50% are already posting about their company.

So regardless of whether you have a social strategy in place, it’s a given that employees are active on social media and they’re talking about you.

And that’s exactly where a social media policy comes into play.

Manage the Risks

It’s to your company’s benefit to set expectations for employee use of social media.

Providing these clear social media guidelines for employees will reduce confusion around what is and what is not acceptable behavior online.

Your social media policy will help protect the company from:

  • PR crises
  • legal and regulatory issues
  • brand dilution or inconsistency
  • general damage to the company’s reputation

Given that the internet never forgets, it’s wise to help steer employee behavior in a positive direction. Even a deleted post can live on forever in the form of a screenshot or internet archives. The old adage applies here: prevention is the best medicine.

But it’s not just about avoiding the downsides.

Far from it, in fact.

Capitalize on the Opportunity

A social media policy can serve as a powerful tool for harnessing your employees’ networks.

Those networks are full of people who trust your employees, who think of them as friends, or are even family.

Put differently, your employees’ networks are more trusted and show better engagement than a company’s own social following:

And if that’s not enough, Swaybase’s own internal studies show that employees’ collective social networks can be up to 46x the size of their employers’ followers on social media.

By having a social media policy in place that clarifies expectations and encourages employee participation online, you empower your employees to be advocates for the company. This type of participation is known as “employee advocacy.” And when done right, it can power your sales, marketing, and recruiting to new heights. (More on this in Chapter 5.)

What to include in a social media policy

We love social media policies that balance the Don’ts with the Do’s. (We’ll share examples in Chapter 2.)

That’s because guidance on what employees should do provides a solution (“Do this”). It’s a positive affirmation of a behavior employees can take.

Make no mistake - Don’ts are necessary as well. There are simply some actions (e.g. sharing confidential information) that are off-limits and should be clearly stated as so.

The key is in striking a balance so that the policy isn’t overly burdensome or riddled with legal-speak, and instead embraces the reality of the modern workplace, where social media is everywhere.

So what should you cover in your policy?

A. Roles

Within your company, there are two distinct roles on social media.

One role is that of the official spokesperson who can speak and/or post on behalf of the company. They are typically executives, PR team members, the social media team (and maybe some members of the broader marketing team), and customer support personnel. They can interact directly with members of the public and answer questions on behalf of the company. In fact, it’s likely a key part of their job description.

Everyone else occupies the other role. These are your “regular” employees who have a day job that usually does not involve speaking on behalf of the company in an official capacity.

This second, “unofficial” role  is the more common one. It’s these employees that your social media policy addresses in particular. In all likelihood, the official spokespeople probably have guidance and policies that are separate from what’s in your general social media policy - from specific talking points and scripts, to login credentials for corporate social media accounts.

It’s important to highlight these two roles and to distinguish between them. State clearly what the official spokespeople handle that the rest of the employees should avoid.

For instance, here’s how Walmart’s social media policy makes this distinction:

Walmart distinguishes between official spokespeople and everyone else at the company.

Additionally, you may want to consider asking those who are not official spokespeople to include language in their social media profiles along the lines of: “Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.”

B. Acceptable Conduct & Content

Clarifying roles is a great first step. Now it’s time to get into details.

What can your employees say online? What can’t they say?

For instance, employees should:

  • Be respectful of others (e.g. treat online discussions as you would in the workplace)
  • Be honest and transparent (e.g. only say you’re a manager if you really are)
  • Respect workplace confidentiality, including trade secrets, financial information, and other non-public information
  • Respect the privacy of fellow employees, customers, partners, etc.
  • Share company news and developments (as long as they’re public knowledge); a good rule of thumb is if there’s already a link to an article online, it’s probably ok to share
  • Share their personal experience at the company (e.g. day-in-the-life type of content, community service events, etc.)
  • Use common sense (e.g. assume any posts could make their way to the front page of a newspaper)

Conversely, employees should not:

  • Post hate speech or discriminatory language that may violate the law or company policy
  • Post something if they’re not confident that it’s legal or obeys company policy; in that case, speak with someone from HR, legal, or the social media team (have relevant contact information listed, like an email address employees can contact)
  • Engage in online spats or arguments (again, refer them to someone who can officially handle those discussions)

C. Regulations, Legal Restrictions, & Sensitive Information

It’s worth detailing some of the trickier scenarios that your employees should be aware of.

These include more legally complex issues and regulations that vary from industry to industry. For instance, healthcare and finance are heavily regulated. Make sure your employees are fully aware of the kinds of content they can and cannot post according to their industry.

Additionally, if a company is publicly traded, then certain financial information cannot be disclosed before it is officially made public.

Sensitive information like store closing procedures and inventory statuses should also not be shared online.

D. Procedure for Conflict or Crisis

Odds are that your employees will be confronted with some type of conflict or crisis related to your company online. It could be as simple as a negative product review, or as serious as a major data breach.

Whatever the scenario may be, make it clear what your employees should do in these situations. Who should they reach out to, and under what circumstances?

Our recommendation: include an email address and phone number that employees can reach out to if they need to report an issue or simply ask a question about their online activities.

E. Call to Action for Participation

As we’ve mentioned, your employees’ networks are valuable.

Those networks are likely larger than your own corporate social accounts’ followers, trust your employees more than they trust you, and show better engagement.

Oh - and your employees are already talking about you online.

So lean in and embrace this activity!

Explain that their participation in social media can help them build their personal brand, help the company recruit top talent, and drive the company’s sales and marketing activities.

Encourage your employees to share:

  • why they enjoy working for you
  • how they feel supported by their manager or mentor
  • the latest experience they had with a customer who shared how your product or service impacted their life
  • and anything else that helps set your company apart from the crowd.

Better yet, you can make it even easier for your employees by providing them with pre-approved content in one central location. They can then share that content with their personal social networks with the click of a button.

As you can see, social media policies touch on a number of sensitive and legal issues. Since we're not lawyers and our advice does not constitute legal counsel, we highly recommend you consult your legal team during the development of your policy.

That wraps up Chapter 1 - congratulations!

Now that you’ve got a grasp of the basic elements of a social media policy, let’s look at some real-life examples. Together we’ll see what works well, and a few things you’ll want to avoid.

So grab another tea or coffee, and let's dive into Chapter 2: 21 Social Media Policy Examples to Learn From.

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