Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
June 21, 2010

Start With a Social Media Policy

No More Excuses

When it comes to creating a social media policy, there are no more excuses. Regardless of your company’s size, industry or area of specialization, if you want your organization to engage the right way in the social media landscape, then a policy will help to educate and guide your employees. There are many companies that rush to put up their profiles, group or fan pages and jump into conversations. There are also other organizations that realize they are not even having conversations in social networks, yet their employees are already out there talking about the company and the scope of their work, and not protecting what could be company sensitive information.

Benefits of a Social Media Plan

Having a social media policy or guidelines lets everyone know just how they are supposed to participate, share information, and respect and/or be responsible to the brand. A policy also communicates the value of social media to the entire company and gets employees on the same page as to the company’s current participation and/or plans for future involvement.

It’s true, employees want to feel connected to the brand and the more information you can tell them, the more they will take interest and want to participate. A social media policy will also designate certain parties to be official representatives, so employees know whom to direct media’s and bloggers’ inquiries to, as well as who is the appropriate party to speak officially on behalf of the organization with respect to company policies.

Where to Start?

There are several areas that may be covered in a social media policy. However, policies may vary because every company is different. I’ve seen social media policies that are two pages and then I’ve seen guidelines that are 30 pages long. These policies will continue to morph, as the brand gets more involved in the social landscape. Social media policies are definitely not meant to stifle communication or create nervousness around conversations. On the contrary, these guidelines should stimulate great discussions as they direct employees and make them feel comfortable about their new participation.

Here are a few common areas covered in social media policies/guidelines:

  • Overview of Social Communications and Tools
  • Rules of Engagement
  • Blog Guidelines and Comment Moderation
  • Code of Ethics
  • Potential Legal Concerns
  • The 3Rs to Social Communication:
    o Representation
    o Responsibility
    o Respect
  • Statement on Social Media Measurement
  • Other Emerging Social Media Issues
  • Forward Looking Statement

What other areas have you seen covered in a social media policy, and what would you recommend to a company that wants to build its social guidelines?

Deirdre Breakenridge, president and executive director, communications, Mango! Creative Juice, an integrated advertising, marketing and communications agency, is also an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she teaches courses on public relations and interactive marketing for the university’s Global Business Management program. Her books include “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” “PR 2.0,” and “Cyberbranding: Brand Building in the Digital Economy.”

Join Deirdre for her webinars, “Create a Social Media Policy to Fit Your Organization: Develop Guidelines to Lessen the Risk,” “How to Create a Social Media Plan: Build Community and Brand Awareness Through Strategic Social Communications” and her PRSA 2010 International Conference session “Become a PR Influencer to Drive Business Sales“!

  • Janelle Guthrie

    Washington state has convened a group of state government communicators who are developing a model social media policy for our state. Some considerations I didn’t see listed included:
    * Records retention: This is important for compliance with government accountability laws but may only be relevant to government; and
    * Security: How will you ensure your use of third-party social media tools doesn’t expose your enterprise to security threats.
    Janelle Guthrie, APR, Washington Attorney General’s Office

  • Vivienne Storey

    Hi Deidre, thanks for this post highlighting the need for all companies to have a social media policy. They’re a great tool for enabling employees to confidently participate in social media while giving a company some risk management peace of mind.

  • Sherrie Bakshi

    Thank you for this post. I work with many of our clients on social media strategies. Some of the information that you provided is very helpful. I’ve had a few clients concerned about moderating communications, especially blog comments. We have of course been able to provide them counseling on what they should blog about, as well as how to moderate comments.

  • Erin Hathaway

    This is great information for organizations such as ours we are currently working on establishing our policy. Our main concern is also moderation and hope we have set a good standard for involved employees.

  • Deirdre

    Janelle, thanks for your insights and additions to what should be included in a social media policy.

    Vivienne, thank you for your feedback. I agree that policies empower and make employees feel more confident in their social media communications.

    Hi Sherrie & Erin! I noticed you both are building policies and mentioned comment moderation. I think it’s really important that your blog policy and comment moderation are stated upfront. People participating on a blog must know what is considered acceptable to post. I allow all comments to be posted, even negative ones, on my blog. The only comments that would not make it through would be comments that are harmful in nature, and don’t pertain to the information on the blog or what’s relevant to the community. Thanks for sharing!

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