Monday, April 19, 2010

Why you need a Social Media Policy...today!

If your company has any employees at all, chances are extremely good that your company also has a full complement of bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers, and other assorted social media contributors on the staff. You need to ensure that your loyal (and some not-so-loyal) employees understand what is expected of them in the rough & tumble arena of online social media interactions.

I’m sure you are aware that during business hours, everyone on your staff represents your company. The way they look, act, talk, and interact with customers during business hours is probably managed pretty closely by your company via employee handbooks, company policies, and approved procedures.

However, in the freewheeling world of the internet and social networks like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc, if you don’t make it clear to your employees how you want them to behave when representing your company, or talking about your company, you’re leaving the door wide open to a host of problems that can negatively impact your bottom line.

I’m sure everyone has seen the YouTube video uploaded by two Domino’s Pizza employees. I’m including the link here, although I believe it may have been disabled as it’s evidence in a court case at this time. Two Domino’s employees videotaped themselves fooling around in the kitchen at work, putting things in customers food, etc. then posted the video to the web. Some outraged - and sharp eyed- YouTube visitors figured out who they were and helped get them busted.

This example is pretty extreme, but you get the idea. Employees bad-mouthing the company, complaining about their jobs, giving away company secrets, all these are very real possibilities that employers face today. Having a company policy for social media may not eliminate these situations, but they’ll make it clear what’s expected, and establish what sort of consequences employee activities online will carry back at the workplace.

Much of what is contained in most social media policies is common sense, but you do need to have this stuff in writing. Especially when it comes to online interactions, there’s a sense of “depersonalization”. People think they have the "right" to express themselves online with no consequences when they say stupid things. I’m sure you’d agree that your company and its representatives must take responsibility for what they write online, using good judgment and common sense. By the way, if it’s so “common” why doesn’t anyone seem to have any?

Also, don’t overlook using social media as a customer service tool. Social Media pages are a great way to promote your brand and generate customer loyalty, but you can also use it to solve problems in real time. If a disgruntled guest Tweets a negative comment about your restaurant, you may be able to do damage control on the spot, and turn a negative in to a positive. You might even catch them before they leave the building! That would impress me. Include information on this invaluable aspect of social media in your policy.

And remember to include policies for using social media during business hours. If your company is large enough to have an IT department you may already have internet usage policies in place, but they may not include social media usage guidelines. Either way, make sure your employees know what you expect in this area, and what the fallout will be if they violate your policy.

Like I say frequently in this blog, clear communication and clear goal setting goes a long way in business and in life. Let your employees know what social media efforts your company is making, and how you’d like them to be involved. Some companies have a strict “hands-off” policy when it comes to employees posting at the company Facebook page, for example. Others actively request staffers to get in on the fun. Look at your situation and decide what will work best for your unique position.

If you allow (or encourage!) your staff to participate in company social media efforts, be sure to have them be authentic. Post using their real name, company title, etc. No lurking! Visitors seeing their investment to the company will get a better impression of your business and it’s commitment to it’s staff. Remember your staff is communicating directly with potential customers, existing customers, other employees, etc. Your policy will be unique to your business but some basics would include prohibiting racial slurs, inflammatory political comments, revealing unpublicized company plans or secrets, etc.

And be up front with your staff that company policies regarding interaction with customers and other employees in the workplace apply equally to online interactions. Let them know they don’t have a right to privacy when they are representing your companyon the internet, no matter where they are or what computer they’re using when they’re posting- at home, at work, etc.

You probably have a communication policy outlining proper use of telephones (even basics like how to answer the phone!), internet usage, etc. The same goes for social media use. Even professional sports leagues like the NFL, NBA and UFC (The UFC even trained it’s top MMA fighters in how to effectively use Twitter and Facebook to build the brand!) have social media policies- some extremely tough! NFL player Chad Ochocinco has had repeated run-ins with the league over his flamboyant and frequent use of Twitter, to the point where he’s considering just deleting his Twitter account. I’m sure the NFL wouldn’t mind if he carried through with that threat!



Fewer than 30% of companies in the US have social media policies in place, according to a recent report by Manpower. Yet the use of social media sites is skyrocketing. Every employee you have has the potential to represent your company to the entire world via their online activities. It’s crucial that you make it clear to them what’s expected of them. To fail to do so could have damaging effects on your business, and undo all the positive effects your social media efforts might otherwise have.



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