Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy

In this social media age, where everything is public and privacy is mostly an illusion, it’s easy to get the lines blurred between what’s personal and what’s business. Many social media champions forget to remind their clients that social media is not without its pitfalls and companies have a responsibility to help their employees understand the rules of engagement in this highly open social media world. 

If your company or business doesn’t  already have clearly defined social media policy and related guidelines, here are 3 reasons why it should be a priority for every company:

Do your employees understand the difference between engaging on a social network/site for personal vs. professional reason?
These days, it’s highly unlikely to find someone who isn’t on at least some popular social networking site like Facebook or has uploaded a video to YouTube. Given the long hours spent at work and the growing influence of social media on our lives, the lines between professional and personal life are blurring. If your employees use their personal account to pitch your products and your customers believe that they are representing your company, your company may very well be liable for their actions even if you didn’t authorize them. If you don’t want the next headline on Techcrunch or NY Times quoting your employee ,who was discussing the weaknesses of your product with friends on a seemingly private venue like Facebook , you need to clearly define acceptable online social behavior.  Even if you think it’s highly unlikely to happen, are you willing to take a chance and risk having to debate it in court some day?

Do your employees blog or engage on social media sites on behalf of your company?
For legal and practical reasons, you need to have the rules of engagement spelled out for your employees. If you don’t have some clearly defined guidelines and policies for engaging with your customers, you can’t blame your employees for posting inappropriate information on your company website or on behalf of your company. They might be including links to their personal website or or talking about products that aren’t even launched yet because they don’t know any better. It’s amazing how even rational people get carried away because the medium is so new and engaging that it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Do your employees understand the legal and other implications of posting content on a social media site or public blog?
Even folks who are engage in social media on a regular basis don’t understand the implications of sharing information on a social media site. It’s essential to note that on social media sites, that nothing is private and nothing is sacred. Anything your employees say could be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and used against your company and the employees themselves. Recently, courts in New Zealand and Australia ruled that court papers could be served via the popular social networking site, Facebook. Peter Shankman has a detailed account on his blog, how a seemingly social media-savvy PR person got into trouble with his client when he posted some not-so-flattering comments about his client’s location on Twitter.

I can understand why businesses don’t want to stifle the spirit of their social media enthusiastic employees however, as much as these policies and guidelines protect the company, they also help the employees avoid embarassing themselves. Many social media gaffes are not because of malicious intent but rather due to lack of awareness and understanding of what’s acceptable in rapidly evolving online social space.

Does having a policy or guidelines mean your employees won’t ever post something they’re not supposed to?  Of course not, there are no guarantees in life and certainly not in business, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try to mitigate potential liability. Just your company wouldn’t let a new employees run the business without some basic guidance, its unacceptable not to extend the same courtesy to employees who are representing your company and navigating the social media space on behalf of their employer.


8 responses to “Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy

  1. Pingback: 6 Simple Steps to Your Company’s First Social Media Policy « Marketing Mystic

  2. Hi — I was one of the authors of the Porter Novelli draft social media policy. All I can tell you is that it is still under fierce debate; mostly on what should be a guideline and what should be policy (as one of the participants in the debate says, “policies bound to be misinterpreted are bad policies.”

    There’s a lot of discussion about privacy in particular. When does someone who works for us stop being a representative of the company, and how should this affect their online behaviour?

    • Hi Mat,
      Thanks for the comment and link. You have great, insightful content on your blog, enjoyed reading it. Here’s a link http://bit.ly/ChDZo to a discussion on Friendfeed, where I respond to someone from IBM who wants to know why I was differentiating between ‘Policy’ and ‘Guidelines’. I looked at their policy and guidelines, it’s interesting the company has decided to deem all guidelines as policies. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer and every company has their own ideas about this. Regardless of what they’re called, I much rather see something concrete, than have companies hiding behind pithy generalities like “Use your common sense”.
      Privacy is another interesting but controversial topic. This has come up in so many conversations/discussions, recently. I think it’s a good sign that shows social media is maturing and as it enters the corporate realm, we are taking these issues much more seriously and giving them the due attention they deserve.

  3. Couldn’t agree more with regards the difference between guidelines and policies. Couldn’t agree more about the arrogance and lack of responsibility implied by those “don’t be stupid” guidelines.

    One thing I’ve just noticed that we left out of our policy that should be explicit: we will respect Wikipedia Conflict of Interest guidelines… I know I kind of mention it in passing, but it needs to be clear =)

  4. Pingback: Speed Communications Blogs

  5. Pingback: Should Employer’s Set Internal Social Media policies? « Renée Warren’s Blog

  6. Pingback: Social Media – Policies, Usage and Effects « thewordmonger's blog

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