Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Not All Fun and Games: Social Media Policies

At this point, it’s unthinkable that any small business would not have a social media presence. Heck, even the CIA opened a Twitter account. Done right, social media connects people to your business, building brand awareness and forging loyalty. But when social media efforts go awry, the consequences can run the gamut from mild—such as turning a business into a (however temporary) laughingstock—to extreme, like forcing it to shut down altogether because the damage done was so severe.
According to Laurie Hurley, CEO and founder of The Social Networking Navigator, a social media marketing agency, this is why every small business owner should create a cohesive social media policy, one that sets boundaries for who can do what and when.

“This can be different for every company or brand,” Hurley explained. “For example, an athletic brand may allow employees to post their weekend activities—wearing the company t-shirts or logos of course—to the company’s social media sites. However, a medical facility, such as a dentist’s office, should designate a team or manager that does all the posting due to privacy issues.”
Hurley believes it’s best to put specific people in charge of the company’s social media, making them responsible for what gets posted online (or, if the company uses an agency, have them handle all the posting). At the same time, small business owners also need to consider establishing guidelines and policies for what employees can post on their personal social media about the business even when not at work—a strategy more companies are taking, in an effort to maintain control over their reputation and image.

Think this sounds too extreme and intrusive? Worried that it will cause employees to revolt? Let’s consider just the two businesses Hurley mentioned; an athletic brand and a dentist’s office. What if an employee of an athletic-wear brand tweeted something derogatory about the company’s new ‘lame’ logo, or flamed a coworker on Facebook? What if he posted photos of his questionable off-work behavior (while wearing the company t-shirt, clearly seen) on Instagram? Or, what if the receptionist at the dental office complained about a patient on her social media? Even if she didn’t mention the patient’s name, the impression she’s creating is highly unprofessional, giving those who read her postings the idea that patients risk being ridiculed and talked about.

Consequently, establishing a comprehensive social media policy is just a best practice for almost any kind of small business. Although this policy—which can be wrapped up into a company’s cybersecurity policy—will vary depending on the type of business, broadly speaking it should at least:
  • State the policy’s purpose. For example, defining the appropriate behavior for employees as it pertains to use of the company’s social media, as well as their personal social media in relation to the business.
  • Define who is authorized to handle the company’s social media, the social media format deployed, what is appropriate to post on social media and/or the Internet, and the process for verifying appropriateness. It should also address the issue of employees’ use of personal social media/Internet with respect to the company. For example, some companies forbid employees to involve the business in controversial issues or post disparaging remarks about customers/clients or the company and its employees.
  • Establish who is responsible for responding to customer postings (e.g., complaints, comments and compliments), as well as defining how responses are handled, including timeframe for responding. This is especially critical in the case of complaints, which should be addressed respectfully and as immediately as possible. But in all cases, it’s an established best practice that customer feedback be quickly acknowledged.
“Setting boundaries and educating employees about those boundaries is important,” added Hurley. “It’s a good idea to think of this as reputation management. In this day and age, the online world never stops."

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