Since I first blogged on this topic, a lot has changed. Authenticity has become the currency on social media and employees are no longer hiding behind corporate messages when sharing professional content. They’re voicing their opinions and stories not just on work-related matters but on their personal lives, culture and politics.
The life-changing year of 2020 has only accelerated this further as COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, fake news and President Trump’s antics became trending topics on LinkedIn, not just Facebook or Twitter.
Many organizations have already experienced first-hand the benefits of activating their employees voices for advocacy and social selling. They want to encourage real human-to-human conversations but are grappling with a social media landscape that’s more fraught with conflict than before and where professional and personal have blurred further.
What hasn’t changed is my advice from back then: It’s better to think of social media policies in terms of guidance. Here’s why and what should be included in yours.
Why Social Media Policies Should Focus On Guidance
Social media guidelines aren’t just there to protect the organization but the employee, too. They are free to post what they like but, as with any aspect of life, there are consequences. Our role can only be to guide them to ensure that they understand social media etiquette and risks, so that they make an informed choice when posting.
It’s just like workplace behaviour. There will always be clear redlines shouldn’t be crossed. Other behaviours fall into a grey area and not everyone is aware of how their actions will be interpreted by others around them or the impact it could have for their employer, colleagues and their own career. That’s where guidance is useful.
Your policy will undoubtedly have red lines such as racist remarks and confidentiality but for grey areas – guidance that sets out the potential issues that may arise always works best.
And don’t forget to focus on the positive impact social can have for your colleagues and you – as well as guidance on how they can achieve it.
So What Should Be Included In A Set Of Social Media Guidelines?
Opening paragraph - Outline why you're encouraging employees to actively participate in social media. Reinforce that these guidelines are there to help protect them as employees and the brand as the employer.
If you're building a wider employee advocacy program, explain why the brand is helping employees to develop their professional brand online - how it assists them and how their participation can support the brand.
At this point you should introduce the levels of program participation and point them to where they can get training so they can take their first step into social networking.
I would encourage you to make your guidelines conversational in tone and straight forward in approach – no social media jargon that may confuse or cause ambiguity.
While employees are becoming more active on professional social networks, some are still scared to mention their employer for fear of doing something wrong, so avoid scaring your employees further. Keep the guidelines informal, perhaps even tongue in cheek. Focus on actively encouraging employees to be transparent and enthused ambassadors of the brand.
Always make sure employees are aware of confidentiality when it comes to company and customer related information. You wouldn't share confidential content at a networking event and so you wouldn't share confidential content by social media. It’s no different.
2. Haven't I Seen That Before?
Be sure employees understand image using rights, copyright and other legal constraints that may restrict their social media usage.
3. Leave It To The Legal Eagles
Ensure employees know not to disclose financial or legal information around customers or clients. Be clear about the boundaries of what they should and shouldn't be sharing. Remind them of their contractual obligations to the business when they became an employee and just emphasise that social media is no different to what they're already doing.
4. The No-Go Areas
Make sure employees understand that they must respect their audiences and they must not be dishonourable in terms of racial, ethnic, religious or sexual slurs that may offend. Their professional brand will be tied to their personal brand and such commentary isn't acceptable in the office...nor on social networking. It's not nice and it could even land them in court.
5. What's Said On Social Stays On Social
Early on is a good time to remind employees that the internet remembers: always pause and think before posting. If you delete that tweet or LinkedIn post the chances are someone has retweeted it or shared it.
Instead of pointing out that there may be risks, give examples of Tweets or LinkedIn posts that have sparked a negative social media frenzy and damaged someone's personal and professional reputation, like these examples. Remind them that some may be unthinkingly foolish but others can be quite innocuous.
6. Passion Is Healthy. Anger Is Not.
Emotions can run at a high when you're on social media, especially if you feel something or someone has been mis-represented. Spirited discussions are good. All out fights are not. We've all been there - that email that that winds you up on Friday night so you respond by hitting the keyboard with all your anger...then you walk away, return and re-write it. It’s the same with social networking. Encourage your employees to never post in anger as it’s almost always a recipe for disaster.
7. Social Etiquette
Many organizations will have a code of conduct already in place. When employees sign the contract to join the company, a code of conduct is often used to inform employees on how the company expects them to behave. Remind employees that the code of conduct is also relevant to online activity.
8. No Pseudo Identities
Social is about conversations and people like to know they are conversing with someone genuine and credible. Encourage your employees to be human, be proud and declare who you work for - and how it helps transparency and credibility.
9. It's All About Me
Encourage employees to talk in the first person on social media. Social networking is what it says...social. A channel for discussions, conversations and networking. People don't have conversations with logos - they have conversations with people.
10. Be Helpful
Encourage employees to think about their audience and serve their audience. Building a community by adding value and encouraging their community members to engage is the right kind of usage for social media. No-one wants to convert employees into marketing megaphones. Teach them to learn and share.
11. Follow Us
Encourage your employees to follow your branded social channels. It is a great place for the less confident employees to start engaging in content that is ‘safe’ and they will know that content from their employer is going to be branded and ready for sharing. They can start engaging with easy content that will help them ease into social networking and what good practice looks like.
12. Oops...Now What?
Tell employees to be the first person to respond to mistakes. Don't leave it and wait. Tell them that if they've made a mistake on social media make some headway towards fixing it and setting the record straight. Still not happy? Contact the social media team.
13. Use Common Sense
Remind employees that if they use their best judgement and common sense when engaging on social media they won't go far wrong - this is how they already operate day-to-day.
14. Respect the Offline Rule
Not everyone wants to have their photo shared all over social media. You should advise your employees to give some thought into the conversations that they have offline with colleagues or customers and give guidance around maintaining the privacy of those conversations. For example, if you go to an event and you take a photo it is only polite to ask permission of the people in the photo if you can post it to social media.
15. We're Here To Help
Provide a point of contact. Employees may come across conversations that they won't be able to participate in, e.g. a journalist has contacted them. In such cases make it easy for your employees to contact someone internally so they can easily step out of the discussion.
16. Monitoring Feeds
Be sure that you tell your employees that any activity they participate in on social media may appear in the brand’s social monitoring feeds (assuming you have them!) and that it is likely that their participation may feature in the monitoring feed.
17. Move It Offline
Explain to employees that they should never commit the company to resolution - take it offline. It's not right nor reasonable to expect employees to commit the brand to follow up on something specific without doing due diligence or further investigation. Just remind the employees of customer service protocols for dealing with complaints.
18. Remember The Day Job
It's easy to get swallowed up in social networking so just remind folks that it's there to assist their role, so you expect responsible social media usage during working hours.
19. Signpost to training
Let your employees know to where they can find further training and guidance on social media best practice and remind them again of how the training may help their careers and professional brand.
20. Enjoy ItEmployees that activate their professional brand online will open up new opportunities e.g. speaking opportunities, new customers, learning from others. It's a great way to connect and build their own network...for them. Remind them to enjoy the process!
All that said, the proof is in the execution.
Don't write the document, host it on the intranet and hope folks find it. Encourage employees to collaborate in building the guidelines. Have a launch party. Do a desk drop.
Use the re-launch as an excuse to find your social superstars and potentially your best advocates. Combine guideline training with personal brand training to engage the audience in something that helps them develop.
For more inspiration, check out these:
- Monzo: Despite being bound by regulatory rules, this bank knows how to guide people to do the right thing.
- GAP: Straight talking with humour - EVERYONE will understand!
- Coca-Cola: A bit formal but easy to read and not too long.
Let me know if there’s anything we’ve missed and share your favourite examples of social media guidelines.
If you need any assistance in creating a set of guidelines for employee social media or indeed launching an employee advocacy program within your organisation, please do not hesitate to reach out.
I am seriously passionate about helping people and organizations achieve social business success. Let's talk - firstname.lastname@example.org