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November 3, 2011

Social Media Policy: Killing the Messenger

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Today on the SEM Synergy webcast (listen here now), guest Kristy Bolsinger of Ant’s Eye View touched on the topic of business and social media policy. It certainly seems to be a hot topic these days, as more and more companies try to get a handle on what social media means to them. And while I “get” the need for policies in certain instances for certain companies, I often think many of them come from a place of fear and misunderstanding about what social media really is: a channel that facilitates a shift in the way businesses, friends, families — humans — connect and communicate.

On SEM Synergy, Kristy had this to say about social media policy:

“Every company is going to be different, some are far more conservative than others, some of them like to have policies and procedures, and others are much more – I call them the ‘don’t be stupid group’ – where, I think we’ve all heard of those, those companies that have just a ‘don’t be stupid’ policy and that’s supposed to kind of cover everything.

For those companies, I think that works really well. But that typically tends to be companies where they’re a little bit smaller. For larger companies, I think it is important to have – I hate to say ‘policy’ because that implies that you are being limited.

I think that the best practice would be to go about it from an educational standpoint, and to really educate on ‘here’s the best way to use social for furthering our business, and here is the best way to represent yourself professionally in social media’ and really educating around some of the negative implications that can come from less-than-ideal behavior online.”

The education approach to social media is certainly one I can get behind. In September at the Wappow! Search and Social conference, Becky Carroll gave a presentation on creating a learning curriculum for employees and social media. Check it out for some actionable items.

But let’s get down to the meat of this topic: why social media “policy”?

Social Media is Not the Hazard; Your Understanding of it Is

Policies and procedures certainly have their place. Let’s say a company uses its Twitter account for customer service. The employees working within Twitter in this case are official representatives of the company, in the department of customer service. So, of course, customer service policies should be adapted to Twitter.

hazard

In this example, having customer service policy almost eradicates the need for social media policy with regards to how to conduct behavior. The task is customer service; the channel is social media. This might be a shift in perception for many businesses.

When people look at social media as the hazard, they are spending their time and energy on the wrong aspect of their business.

If you’re a company that’s considering a social media policy, think about first evaluating:

1. What is the company’s culture, and how can that translate in all communications, not just social media? 

What did people do before social media? Well there was face-to-face communication, phone and then email — all forms of interaction with customers. There has always been some sort of guidelines on how to interact in a professional setting — many of them unspoken. Most people understand how to interact with another person in a work environment.

The valuable questions become: Do you have a brand personality, and what is it? Have you done your best to hire people who align with your company’s values? Have you equipped your staff with the knowledge they need to be able to default to the brand whenever they have a question about their communications?

2. Who is your social media audience and what do they expect from you?

Get to know what your social media audiences want. They very well may differ from channel to channel. If you’re newer to social media, understand that what your brand has given to your audiences traditionally outside of social mediums may not fly. Sometimes what the company thinks is good for it socially, is not actually the case. Listen to your audience and learn.

3. What are the goals you want to accomplish as a business, and how can social media help you accomplish those goals?

Instead of going directly for a policy that targets social media usage and behavior, think about your business initiatives and how they can use social media as an extension of the process. If the goals and strategy are already laid out for that initiative, the tactical social media part is obvious and clear — no policy necessary.

4. What types of personalities are the best fit for being representatives of company’s social media accounts?

Sometimes the problem lies within the personality, not the social medium. Carefully hand-select people for the job with the right mindset and professionalism, who understand the brand’s message. A policy becomes a thing of the past when you trust and empower the person to make the best decisions in their communications.

What’s your take on social media policies? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.





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