How to Create a Corporate Social Media Policy

Update: Interested in creating a social media policy for your workplace? Request a free consultation to get started.

A social media policy is a powerful resource to guide employee use of new media, earn buy-in from internal stakeholders, and get everyone to read from the same playbook.

So how do you craft a social media policy?

Policy vs. Strategy

First, let me be clear: I’m not talking about a social media strategy. I could write an entirely different post about identifying objectives, defining target audiences, choosing tactics, and measuring results (or you could read Mack’s post).

This post is about social media policy — a set of guidelines (and, yes, even rules) that help employees understand acceptable vs. unacceptable, encouraged vs. discouraged, best practices, opportunities and risks.

There’s no blueprint: Your social media policy should be unique to your corporate culture. Here are some steps to consider:

Involve Stakeholders Throughout the Enterprise

Social media isn’t just for corporate communications. There are ample benefits for HR, sales, accounting, product development, executive and operations. Involve these people early so you craft a policy that encourages innovation and reflects the strengths and limitations of those departments. A social media administrator who can bring the parties together is a good start.

Set Aside “You Can’t Do That” Thinking

You’ve heard the mantras about “If you always do what you’ve always done…,” right? Social media is a new-ish approach to business. It enables new forms of collaboration, new approaches to problem-solving, and new ways to increase efficiency. “You can’t do that!” is our default response, a knee-jerk posture we instinctively deploy as a defense against discomfort. Hear it, recognize it, accept it, and set it aside. Then, proceed.

Acknowledge Today’s Paradigms, But Plan for Tomorrow’s

Don’t draft a policy that reflects how you’ve done business for the last 100 years. Instead, think about the next 100 years. Technology, cultures, and human behaviors change. Is your policy flexible enough to adapt as the world around you evolves?

Consider these questions:

  • Is it conceivable that, one day, many or most of your employees could work from home?
  • Does a “9-5″ workforce still meet the needs of a “24/7″ consumer?
  • Does blocking Facebook achieve anything when employees can still access it on their phones?
  • Can someone in your personal network solve a problem faster than someone in your office?

The world changes, and the pace of change is getting faster. How you did business yesterday may be obsolete tomorrow. Create a social media policy that’s flexible enough to be relevant at every tomorrow.

Err Toward Innovation

The lawyers will have my neck for this one…

Creating a social media policy is a sensitive balancing act. Legal wants to minimize risk. PR wants to spread the word. Customer service wants a simpler, more cost-effective solution. Sales wants to fill the pipeline. IT wants to help, but doesn’t have the resources you need.

The CEO wants to hedge his bets, but shouldn’t.

Since the dawn of commerce, more companies have failed for lack of innovation than because of legal liabilities. Yes, be compliant with the law. Yes, know your risks. But there’s a difference between knowing your risks and deferring to them. Err to flexibility, toward encouraging new ideas and new models, and your people will astound you with their talents.

Know the Technology — But Don’t Legislate For It

Social media isn’t just Facebook and Twitter. It includes blogs you write, blogs you read, comments on blogs, niche groups and communities, file and link sharing, collaboration (wikis and other tools), applications, mobile platforms and more.

Many corporate social media policies are crafted in a vacuum, of sorts — that is, they’re written with an incomplete awareness of social media’s scope. A good policy starts with an awareness of social media’s breadth, accommodates the rapid evolution of the technology, and stays technology- or platform-neutral.

  • http://twitter.com/OSUSquire Ryan Squire

    Scott,
    Good post. Err toward innovation… I think that if you've involved the steakholders correctly, one of them is a lawyer. One big issue in our space is that the law is WAY behind the innovations in social media. They work on precedent and there just isn't a lot of it out there. With that said, look at the graph you posted: 31% have done policy and 10% have done education. WHAT?!? How can you have one without the other. First, help your steakholders learn what social media is and what it does/doesn't do. How on earth can you expect them to buy in to something they don't understand? I like that you involved the steakholders first… that's important, but don't forget to do a bit of teaching so they know what's at steak now and a feeling for what could be at steak in the future.

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Great point about the policy vs. education graphs, Ryan. It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, I suppose: Sometimes it helps to have a policy in place before you teach employees about social media and the company, but in reality, many employees are probably out in front of the educators anyway.

  • http://twitter.com/OSUSquire Ryan Squire

    Scott,
    Good post. Err toward innovation… I think that if you've involved the steakholders correctly, one of them is a lawyer. One big issue in our space is that the law is WAY behind the innovations in social media. They work on precedent and there just isn't a lot of it out there. With that said, look at the graph you posted: 31% have done policy and 10% have done education. WHAT?!? How can you have one without the other. First, help your steakholders learn what social media is and what it does/doesn't do. How on earth can you expect them to buy in to something they don't understand? I like that you involved the steakholders first… that's important, but don't forget to do a bit of teaching so they know what's at steak now and a feeling for what could be at steak in the future.

  • Pingback: How to Create a Corporate Social Media Policy » Media Emerging | Scott Hepburn » Social Marketing

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Great point about the policy vs. education graphs, Ryan. It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, I suppose: Sometimes it helps to have a policy in place before you teach employees about social media and the company, but in reality, many employees are probably out in front of the educators anyway.

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  • max191

    Hello, good luck for me I was looking for this information for several months ago. Finally I got it all here. Thanks a lot!
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  • toddtheodore

    This is a great guide to creating a policy. I also came across a great tool online which helps you create a policy in minutes. I reviewed it on wwwwY so you all can get a better understanding of it and decide if it's for you and your organization

    http://whowhatwherewheny.com/how-to-create-a-so

  • http://whowhatwherewheny.com/ Todd

    This is a great guide to creating a policy. I also came across a great tool online which helps you create a policy in minutes. I reviewed it on wwwwY so you all can get a better understanding of it and decide if it's for you and your organization

    http://whowhatwherewheny.com/how-to-create-a-so

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Nice plug.

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Nice plug.

  • toddtheodore

    Scott, this is not a plug for anything. The social media policy tool has nothing to do with myself. Some of your readers don't have the time, resources, or know-how to create their own social media policy for their employees. I came across the tool online and I thought your readers would find it beneficial, because many have those constraints. Just trying to start conversation and educate.

  • http://whowhatwherewheny.com/ Todd

    Scott, this is not a plug for anything. The social media policy tool has nothing to do with myself. Some of your readers don't have the time, resources, or know-how to create their own social media policy for their employees. I came across the tool online and I thought your readers would find it beneficial, because many have those constraints. Just trying to start conversation and educate.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/susannelafaver Susanne La Faver

    I agree, Scott. Most times employees are ahead of educators.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/susannelafaver Susanne La Faver

    I agree, Scott. Most times employees are ahead of educators.

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