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03/12/2010 Social Media Policies and Guidelines Have Different Audiences

More and more companies, organizations and government agencies have started developing social media policies. There are lots of good examples out there and even some interactive tools to help create them. However, if your company is thinking about putting a social media policy in place here are some things to pay attention to.

Know Your Audience

Who is your policy for? It gets a little sticky since a number of people will have to approve on the actual policy, yet entirely different set of people will end up using it.

Think of this as an internal marketing project: start segmenting your audience so you can get them what they need. Remember, if you need a policy to start your social media effort, you must fulfill the needs of your audience. In general, you can segment them as follows:

  1. Legal, Financial, HR – This group tends to get nervous around social media. They’re usually highly aware of it, but the seeming lack of control and negative viral stories in the press about social media make some want to just ignore it. Or even worse, it makes them want to turn the whole thing off. For this group, you need to show them that the rules governing the offline business apply in social media as well. Spelling out privacy, intellectual property and financial disclosure limitations is key for these people.
  2. Employees – Most people who work at your organization will not participate in social media on your behalf. Unless you’re Zappos, where it seems almost everyone has a Twitter account, most employees will use social media on their own time. They may participate during working hours, but they’ll be doing it on as private individuals. For these employees, you need to tell them what you expect from them as it relates to your company. Should they tell people where they work? Can they comment on work issues? Pretty basic questions, actually, and ones that they probably figure out offline, where their audience is smaller.
  3. Social Media Participants – A few employees will make social media part of their jobs. They may provide updates, content or monitor feedback. In most cases, at some point, they will interact directly with customers online. This group needs to know what the organization expects from them. What can they say and what can’t they say? How do they deal with complainers, for example? When should they pass on information to others?

Create the Tools
Once you’ve identified your groups, you can provide them with what they need. Remember success for each group looks different for each. After you’ve solved those various needs, you can put everything in one document, as some organizations do, or you can create separate documents for each group. Here’s what you might produce:

For Legal, Financial and HR: A Social Media Policy. Start with your employee handbook or code of conduct and move those principles into social media. While you don’t have to spell out specific punishments for transgressions, you’ll have to provide some teeth to make this group feel safer. Focus your policy on making this group feel like you’re doing what you can to minimize risk. If something does go wrong, this group will need that document.

For Employees: Social Media Guidelines. Give these people some common sense guidance on how they’re supposed to behave online. Remember, you want them to help, but you don’t want everyone speaking as company representatives online. How much is enough and when should they ask for help? The social guidelines give them directions or checklists to make sure they don’t do anything they shouldn’t do.

For Social Spokespeople: Social Media Best Practices.
You want to maximize this group’s participation and effectiveness. Create a best practices document that gets more granular and has some real life examples. If these people participate daily or weekly you want to keep these best practices up-to-date and current. Try incorporating customer scenarios; they are great learning tools.

If you put all of these in one document, they may be too much for any one person to digest. Having said that, a number of companies have done just that. If it works for them, great. You may find, however, that segmenting your internal audience helps you move faster and provide more value.

And after all, that’s what social media is all about anyway.

Some good examples of social media policies and guidelines:

Coke – A concise, well-written document. They’ve addressed the three separate audiences in one place. If your organization can keep it this short, you’re doing something right.

Kodak – Labeled “Social Media Tips” this is a great primer on social media and how to use it. It’s like a course for employees. Because the layout is good, it doesn’t really feel as long as it is.

Telstra – The innovative Australian company has created social media training in the form of an online comic book. Probably because they have a younger employee pool. Something like this tells a story, rather than providing a list. It’s a good example of scenario training.

For other lists of social media policies and guidelines, visit here or here.

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