June 29, 2009

I’m a big fan of a corporate policy for social media for any business no matter how small. Unless there’s only one person who will be handling your social media efforts you need to set some guidelines in place. Now, by this I don’t mean you have to write a huge document that strangles any hint of spontaneity from your team. Quite the opposite. A corporate policy lets them know what they need to know to communicate the company message effectively, and what they should and should not do.

People are more comfortable knowing the rules
I’ve encountered staff on many occasions who were simply terrified of social media. Where to start? What to say? How to use the tools and would they get in trouble? A little guidance and training and they were just fine. Use your social media engagement policy as a way to show them the ropes and give them models to follow.

Three good reasons for a social media corporate policy.

1) Set branding standards for communication
Clearly you can’t have people making up their own logos and color schemes for your company. If your marketing department has a style guide, put the best bits in your corporate policy document. It saves everybody a lot of headaches if they can create a profile with a company approved logo and a color scheme that reflects the company with outguessing. Make the resources they need available and they’ll be more likely to dive in and you won’t have to assign a hall monitor.

2) Educate your team
What terms do you use to describe your product? Are there particular industry or work related terms you need to have associated with the product? Are there terms you NEVER want used with your product? Here’s where you educate the team. Somebody from production may have no idea of the carefully worded press release you just sent out in which you said the margin for error in your product was .006 % but he may know the last test results he saw were .02%. Make sure they both have the facts so they can put your best foot forward.

3) Set expectations for behaviour
Again, if people know the rules and what is expected from them they are less likely to make mistakes. State clearly what standards of performance you expect. A little personal responsibility and some common sense goes a long way. This also sets the corporate nay-sayers a bit more at ease.

Now I’m not saying you should strangle your team in what they can and cannot say. This is very hard to understand for many larger corporations where the legal department approves every press release and the PR department approves every statement on the website before it can go live.

Social media doesn’t work like this. If your statements appear to be canned or professionally produced it’s bound to fall flat. Let the team know the facts when a new product comes out or you reach a noteworthy milestone. Then let them put it into their own words.

What goes into a typical corporate social media policy doc?
Rather than blather on, here are some examples to learn from. Scan a few and you’ll get the idea. Then adapt to fit your own needs.

  • Intel did a fabulous job with their social media guidelines. It’s clear what they expect and the whole thing is in clear easy to understand language.
  • Cisco’s policy is a little cryptic, but it does outline employee responsibilities on social sites both corporate owned and external networks.
  • D.M. Scott posted an overview of the social media efforts of the U.S. Air Force on his blog, complete with flow charts for responding to a blog comment that are as detailed as one might expect from the government.
  • GM’s blogging policy is short and to the point and then references Charlene Li’s recommendations for more information.
  • Sun’s “Guidelines on Public Disclosure” are much like Intel’s. Simple, to the point and all about transparency.
  • Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center blogging guidelines clearly state the goals of the Walker’s blogs, with advice on finding images, responding to comments and refers to the EFF’s legal guide for bloggers.
  • The BBC has a hands-off approach to personal blogs as long as the writer does not identify themselves with the BBC on their personal blog. Staff are allowed to talk about programs, etc, but are required to include a disclaimer for personal editorial comments on blogs.
  • Here’s what HP says in their “Blogging Code of Conduct”:
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  • Thanks for the post Janet. I have been struggling with writing guidelines for our little team here and this is very useful. I agree about people being afraid without direction on what to do as well. Everyone in our office expects me to be the social media contact, but it would be so much better if people posted their own.

    I like Intel’s approach the best. Clear and friendly.

  • This is good. I have not thought about how to keep my staffers on track. Giving them the information and resources they will need is easier and better for all.

  • I think what you have written here cannot be undervalued. People will always feel more comfortable representing their company online when they have a good idea of what they can and cannot do.

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