Social Media Watch

How to Craft a Social Media Policy

Social media policies don't need to be long documents filled with legalese. Here are four tips to get you started.

Crafting a social media policy for the workplace is as much about protecting your employees as it is about limiting your business' exposure to unwanted criticism or legal issues.

We've all encountered those disclaimers in social media profiles indicating that an individual's tweets or other social activity are their own and not endorsed by the employer. Often there's a specific set of social policy guidelines that require employees to make these caveats, but that's just scratching the surface.

Most businesses now include a social media policy with their employee handbooks, laying out exactly how employees are expected to behave, communicate and interact on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Companies are still somewhat limited by how much they can ask of their employees, however, due to a series of laws such as the National Labor Relations Act and guidelines from regulatory bodies such as the Federal Trade Commission. As such, many businesses struggle to craft a policy that protects their interests while still upholding the rights of their workers.

[Related: Social Media Costs -- and Some Workers Are Paying With Their Jobs]

Some businesses have determined it best to keep it simple (e.g., stating "be professional and represent us well")as others choose to enforce the most restrictive measures possible. But there's plenty of middle ground to carve out between those extremes.

Here's four tips to consider when drafting or revising your corporate social media policy.

Simply Tell Employees to Use Good Judgment

Teaching your employees how to use good judgment in their social media activities can be much more effective than any policy written in legalese. Employers should, and are legally required to, allow their employees the freedom to speak freely on social media.

[Related: 15 Big Social Media Mistakes Companies Make and How to Avoid Them]

That doesn't mean employees should feel entitled to say anything and everything they want, however. There should be a clear and mutual understanding about the right time and place for any activity on social media.

Giving your employees examples of what is and isn't appropriate could provide them with the opportunity to be responsible while still contributing positively to your company's image.

Empower Employees by Setting Clear Boundaries

Social media can be an empowering venue for your employees to communicate and interact with customers, but it also carries some risk. If employees release proprietary information, chastise competitors or post company-owned content, it can cause irreparable damage. So finding a balance that affords some level of empowerment with clear boundaries can make all the difference.

If employees are given the flexibility to represent your brand on social media, include examples of how they should and should not interact. Make it clear that having access to various sites at the workplace is a privilege that should not be abused.

[Related feature: 6 Social Media Mistakes That Will Kill Your Career]

The U.S. Small Business Association encourages businesses to develop a clear policy about which instances warrant access to social media during work hours and for work purposes. Companies should also determine if and how they intend to discipline employees who break those rules.

Craft Separate Policies for Work and Play

The proliferation of smartphones and tablets makes it nearly impossible to keep your employees from gaining access to social media while at work. Instead of clamping down on all activity, your business may determine it's easier and more prudent to create separate policies for personal use and representation as a brand.

[Related slideshow: 10 Social Media Certifications and Classes to Advance Your Career]

Too many restrictions could be perceived as a lack of trust in your employees. So overkill should be avoided unless it's a requirement for highly regulated industries like financial services.

Companies are also encouraged to seek out advice from lawyers who can explain the latest laws pertaining to social media. Crafting a social media policy that complies with federal, state and local laws requires special attention.

[Related news: Social Media Policy Offers Dos and Don'ts For Employees]

Be Concise and Unambiguous

Social media policies don't need to read like a legal document that runs multiple pages, even if lawyers are involved in the process. Policies should simply provide a framework for how your business and its employees are expected to interact and be represented in social media.

Borrowing from others in this case might be wise. Walmart, a global retailer with more than 2.2 million employees, outlines its concerns and expectations for social media activity in little more than 1,000 words. The company also provides separate guidelines for Twitter and Facebook, explaining the nuances and specific corporate concerns of each platform.

Best Buy lays its social media policy out for more than 180,000 employees in less than 500 words. The consumer electronics retailer sums its policy up as such: "Be smart. Be respectful. Be human."

"Follow Best Buy's policies and live the company's values and philosophies. They're there for a reason," the company writes. "Remember: protect the brand, protect yourself."

This story, "How to Craft a Social Media Policy" was originally published by CIO .

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