Social Media can be a Blessing
For small business owners, social media can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, having a social media presence can expand a business’s reach for relatively little cost. One or two well-crafted (and well-timed) posts on your company’s Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest feeds each day, along with some genuine engagement with your fans or followers, could be the difference between staying relevant with your customer or client base and losing ground to your more tech-savvy competitors.
Social Media can be a Curse
On the other hand, without a proper strategy and some clearly defined guidelines for posting and interacting on social media sites, a business runs the risk of harming its reputation and exposing itself to a host of legal issues and embarrassment. As anyone familiar with the now-infamous Facebook meltdown by the owners of Amy’s Baking Company after a less-than-successful filming of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares can attest, that is a very real possibility.
Social Media Policy is Essential
So for the small business that maintains a blog or allows its employees to post social media updates on behalf of the company, a good social media policy is an essential tool for protecting the company’s employees and its interests.
The policy doesn’t have to be full of a bunch of legal jargon. It doesn’t even have to be called a “policy.” Call it “social media best practices” or “guidelines for social media activity,” if you prefer. Whatever you call it, certain items should be addressed so that your employees have a clear understanding about the expectations and potential pitfalls of representing the company online.
Here are some things to think about when drafting your company’s social media policy:
Be consistent about your expectations, regardless of the social tools that are available. What I mean by that is this: whether your employees are writing blog posts, interacting with followers on Twitter, posting updates on the company’s Facebook and Google+ pages, or posting promos on Pinterest, be sure to set clear rules about the kinds of content they can share and how to respond to customer inquiries and complaints. The last thing you want is an off-color, unprofessional or disrespectful post going viral and bringing your company’s reputation down with it.
Emphasize the need to protect confidential information. It should go without saying that employees should not disclose the company’s trade secrets or proprietary information, or reveal any of the company’s internal strategies or other types of confidential matters.
3. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Respect the intellectual property rights of others. If your employees are using images, videos or other third party content in their social media posts and blogs, unless permission has been previously granted by the intellectual property owner or an exception applies, written approval should be obtained from the third party.
Include disclosures consistent with Federal Trade Commission rules. If your company offers freebies, cash, or other compensation in exchange for positive reviews, endorsements or mentions, the existence of that relationship must be disclosed in the post. This also applies if you encourage your employees to promote the company on their own blogs and personal social network accounts.
Take care when utilizing social media to screen potential job applicants. Employers can lawfully use certain information obtained from social media searches when making hiring decisions, such as illegal drug use, a poor work ethic, or misrepresentations about a person’s background and qualifications. However, information related to state and federal civil rights laws must be treated very carefully and should not enter into any hiring decisions. Among these “protected characteristics” are race, gender, religion, national origin, age, disability and sexual orientation.
6. PROVIDE TRAINING
Provide training to your employees on the acceptable use of social media. The more your employees know about the do’s and don’ts of social media engagement, the better equipped they’ll be to promote the company online in a responsible and valuable way.
7. DESIGNATE GATEKEEPERS
Designate key individuals as social media gatekeepers. In this way, a trusted team will be in place to answer any questions and address any concerns presented by employees, customers or clients. The team should also keep up with social media trends and other developments so that the company’s policy can be reviewed and updated as needed.
Far from being an afterthought in a company’s marketing strategy, social media is becoming the great equalizer for small businesses looking to maintain visibility and compete in the Internet age.
So rather than forbid your employees from accessing and posting on social media on behalf of your company, why not embrace their participation by giving them guidance and a clear set of rules so that everyone, from the employees to the company, are better protected in the process.
Creating a social media policy is a good place to start. Here is a database of 246 social media policies to give you an idea what other companies are using.