How to Write a Social Media Policy

September 30, 2010

Why is having a social media policy in place so critical? Because virtually 100% of companies are now involved in social media—whether they acknowledge it or not.

Even without any formal plan to use social media, every organization with more than a handful of employees (and many under that benchmark) is present in social media because people are talking about them. If no one else is discussing a company, its employees almost certainly are. Half of all Americans are now members of at least one social network, and that figure rises to 67% for 25- to 34-year olds. Those employees may be accessing social networks away from work and using them primarily for sharing pictures of their kids or planning their weekend activities, but workplace topics are all but certain to come up from time to time; how many people do you know who never talk about their company outside of the workplace?

How to write a social media policyEven one offhanded remark about a coworker, customer, product or financial situation can damage a company’s reputation. While no enterprise can avoid negative comments in the social media realm completely, all companies can at least minimize the downside potential by providing employees with clear guidelines for any work-related postings.

As a guide to crafting an effective social media policy, you can emulate or combine ideas from one or more of the many social media policy examples now posted online, including the 57 social media policy examples from Dave Fleet or the more than 100 examples posted by Ralph Paglia. Or, if that seems overwhelming, use the outline below as a guide.

Essential Topics for an Organizational Social Media Policy

Introduction and Definitions

Provide a short introduction and then define what you mean by “social media.” While this may seem obvious, its best to be explicit and avoid assuming knowledge (just consider the current leadership in Washington DC for support on that last point). Social media sites include the following:

  • • Social networking sites (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Plaxo, Hi5, etc.)
  • • Social sharing sites (e.g. YouTube, SlideShare, Flickr, etc.)
  • • Forums and discussion boards
  • • Wikis
  • • Blogs
  • • Microblogging sites (e.g. Twitter, identi.ca, Jaiku, etc.)
  • • Social bookmarking sites (e.g. Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, etc.)
  • • Review sites (Epinions, Yelp, ChoiceVendor, etc.)

Social Media Objectives

What does your organization hope to accomplish through social media? What are the primary goals? Share this information with employees. Are you aiming to increase sales and/or leads? Increase brand awareness? Position the company as an industry thought leader? Improve customer service? Recruit more effectively? All of the above? Sharing your mission with employees gives them ownership and the opportunity to be part of the efforts and support those goals.

Guidelines for Social Media Use

This is the most critical element of the policy, the area where the ground rules are made explicit. Which topics are acceptable for discussion in social media, and which are taboo? Is use of social media sites permitted in the workplace? Is personal use ever allowed at work? Employees can’t follow the rules if they don’t know them.

Such rules will vary widely from firm to firm depending on your environment. A single-location restaurant or small retailer operates in a much different realm than  a large public company or an organization in a heavily regulated industry such as health care or financial services. The rules need to set proper limits for your circumstances without, hopefully, being a straitjacket.

Rules may include:

  • • Never disclose information that is proprietary, private or commercially sensitive.
  • • Respect copyright. Don’t use images or content generated elsewhere without permission.
  • • Be honest and transparent. Never post about the company while posing as someone else.
  • • Where appropriate, use a disclaimer (e.g. “The views expressed here are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of XYZ Corporation.”).
  • • Never discuss specific customers, except when referring to published information (such as an approved case study or success story from Marketing).
  • • Be respectful. Never use social media as a platform to disparage coworkers, supervisors or suppliers.
  • • Add value. Your input will be most valued, and reflect best on the company, when it contributes to a conversation, answers a question or solves a problem.
  • • When in doubt, ask. Point employees to appropriate resources for questions about specific circumstances where they are unsure how to contribute or respond.

Guidelines for Content creators (bloggers, presenters, video, podcasts etc.)

If your company actively produces content for social media consumption, your policy will need a specific section addressing the best practices for creating content. For example, effective social media commentary should be informational rather than overtly promotional. Blog comments should be responded to within a reasonable period of time. Twitter is a conversational platform, not a broadcasting medium. While the tone of blog posts and other social media content is informal (not “corporate speak”) it should nonetheless be professional.

A social media policy is a mix of guidelines for effective use of social media and rules for acceptable and unacceptable content — with consequences for breaking those rules (for both the organization and the individual) clearly spelled out.

Drafting an effective social media policy is an essential early step in making sure that, whatever your firm’s overall approach to social media, employees are aware of the goals and rules. With that understanding in place, all of your people can help contribute to achieving your company’s social media objectives — or at least not thwart them.

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18 Responses

  1. Hey Good post! Just curious, how effective is search engine optimisation by way of promoting an offline product or service. I see pages on a regular basis that promote a web primarily based product (book, amazon.com and so forth), but when I need to promote say a health club – is the net an effective manner to do that? Are you aware of any examples of this? Anyway, thanks prematurely for any help. :)


  2. Tom 

    Hi Otto – yes, search is a common tool for promoting offline businesses like contractors, restaurants and shops. Since such businesses usually draw most of their customers from a limited geographic area, optimizing for local search is key. Here’s one good post on the topic: http://www.searchenginepeople.com/blog/local-search-101-how-to-obtain-top-results-in-google-maps.html

  3. have been reading ur website around 3 days. absolutely love your posts. btw i’m doing research relating to this issue. do you happen to know any good blogs or maybe online forums in which I can get more information? many thanks.


  4. Tom 

    Hi Henry, thanks, glad this was helpful. I’d recommend following the links in the 4th paragraph above to the collections of online examples of social media policies for more information.

  5. Many thanks for taking this chance to speak about this, I am strongly over it and I take advantage of learning about this subject. When possible, as you gain data, please update this blog with new information. I have discovered it extremely useful.

  6. Tom, you do make some points that were not covered in my article for CompuKol: http://compukol.com/blogs/compukol/social-media-policy-why-your-business-needs-one/

    I will be writing another version for my own blog, and I’ll will probably include some of your points ESPECIALLY the one that suggest: If you don’t know, then ask. Lots of people do say “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission,” but I don’t think that’s a good idea when you can damage a company’s reputation.


  7. Tom 

    Thanks Shari, glad you found this helpful! The danger of act first and ask permission later when it comes to social media is, of course, the risk that significant damage may already be done. Because there will be always be situations that either aren’t covered in the policy or constitute “gray areas,” it’s important that companies identify their designated experts who can answer such questions.

  8. Fantastic blog! I really love how it?s easy on my eyes and also the information are well written. I am wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which ought to do the trick! Have a nice day!

  9. You can’t argue with the success social media marketing is having. People have huge expectations for social media even though it is such a new field

  10. It’s a long process but every company doing social media should have one. Better safe than sorry. That’s for sure.


  11. Tom 

    Hi Julia – absolutely! Unfortunately, many of the current generation of C-level people don’t realize how active their employees already are on social media or how to tap into that. That potential energy will explode into kinetic energy over the next few years.

  12. Making policies for posting on Social Media is a must for employees in the modern times. Tom thanks for the elaboration and guidance.

    I had read some days before that some of the major Social Media websites will die after may be next 5-6 years. What do you think about it?


  13. Tom 

    It’s hard to see sites like Facebook or Twitter going away, as they have strongly established themselves. But some of the smaller sites – certainly. Then again, anything is possible.

  14. I was just browsing for information regarding social media incorporation in business when I happened to stumble upon this. I found this site extremely useful and would appreciate if you could provide regular updates regarding social media marketing and SEO.


  15. Tom 

    Hi Mary, that’s pretty much what I do! Subscribe to this blog by email or RSS and you won’t miss a thing. :-)

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