How to Develop a Social Media Policy for Employees in 2020 and Beyond

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A decade ago Zappo’s had a social media policy for employees that was more or less the industry standard: “Be real and use your best judgment”. Ten years ago this policy might have been enough. But with the metaphorical and literal explosion of social media, defining “best judgment” and “be real” has gotten a lot less straightforward. The need for an effective social media policy for employees, however, has become more pressing than ever.

No longer a tool to curtail employee social media usage by force, a social media policy for employees today can empower, engage and delight employees and customers alike. How did this document, originally hated by employees, become such an important component of a brand’s overall social media strategy? Should employers suddenly change course and encourage employees to spend time on social networks during work hours?

Before we can answer these questions, it’s important to understand what a social media policy for employees is and what it isn’t.

What is a social media policy for employees?

A social media policy (abbreviated as SMP) is a set of guidelines detailing how and when employees should or shouldn’t use social media

Traditionally, a social media policy for employees included the following:

A formal definition of a social media policy and the reason for its existence The scope of the social media policy General recommendations and guidelines for social media usage Use of company social accounts Inappropriate usage of social media Policy enforcement

Social media policy found its origins in the early 2000s as a “blog policy”, little more than a warning of what employees could and couldn’t post on message boards and blogs. This quickly shifted as social media began expanding significantly, and people began connecting around the world on a wide variety of platforms. But the tone, and message has stayed the same – At work, just don’t.

From a legal aspect, the goal of these guidelines is to protect the employee as much as the employer from legal or personal entanglements. In many ways, it can be compared to other corporate HR policies, like those created to prevent harassment or discrimination. The social media policy for employees attempts to, first and foremost, set behavior standards for employees in online interactions.

A living and breathing document that changes with the times, the social media policy is created and maintained through cooperation and collaboration of numerous teams in the organization. HR, legal, marketing, and even IT all play a pivotal role in developing the policy.

Why your business needs an employee social media policy NOW

You don’t need statistics to guess that at least 77% of American workers use social media during their work day. This isn’t only because they simply must catch up on Lady Gaga’s Instagram account. It’s mostly because 82% of employees believe that social media improves work relationships, and 60% believe it aids in work-related decision making

There is no doubt that social media has become an integral part of the average employee’s workday. This is especially true in the world today when social distancing has driven many business processes and communications to social media. In addition, with more and more mobile-addicted millennials joining the workforce, companies need to be prepared for their extensive social media use.

Social media policies for employees in 2020: Leverage, Not Gag

For far too long, policies have focused on what employees shouldn’t, or aren’t allowed to do. They gave little focus to what employees should be doing to contribute to your bottom line in the time spent on social media. The idea prevalent in the early 2000s, that employees’ use of social media should be limited as much as possible, now seems almost laughable.

Today, businesses that maintain a negative social media policy are losing out. Businesses that have yet to implement one are at a risk of losing even more. It’s time to revamp your social media policy with a positive attitude and employee advocacy in mind.

If you’re still not convinced, it’s worth considering that employee’s brand messages have a 561% greater reach than official brand channels. Moreover, those posts made lead conversion 7 times more likely. That said, surveys also show that 77% of employees are hesitant to be brand champions on social media. It’s quite clear that outdated and inefficient social media policies for employees are one of the causes for this hesitation.

Creating a social media policy for employees is not as hard as it may seem at first glance. Yes, you need to involve multiple departments in the organization and tread carefully around legal and social issues. Yes, it’s worth it. 

To help ease and give the process structure, we’ve created a simple seven step plan to create a positive and empowering social media policy for your employees.

7 steps to a social media policy for employees in 2020

1. Get everyone aboard

As mentioned above, the creation and maintenance of a social media policy are the product of collaboration between multiple teams. So before you can do anything, you need to ensure that HR, Legal, and Marketing are working toward the same goals. It’s important that everyone understands how and why this is being done, and what their roles and responsibilities are.

Having the collaboration of HR, legal and marketing is not enough. To create a social media policy that employees will adopt and implement, it’s critical that you involve them in the decision-making process.

Mastercard managed to pull this off with a company-wide meeting where it invited employees to ask questions about how they should conduct themselves professionally on social media. The input from such a meeting and the value it brings to the employee-employer relationship can be a huge benefit to all.

2. Define EVERYTHING

Don’t leave anything up for interpretation. Be very specific in the language you use in the document. Explain the goals of the policy, your brand mission, and of course, what employees should and should not do. This also includes definitions and directions like:

That the official company accounts are Who is in charge of them Who has access to them Which channels are used for what purposes What types of social media usage are encouraged and which are not

The SMP must include any language, topics, or even company logos if relevant that are recommended, and off-limits.

3. Protect your business

As much as this is about giving your employees the freedom to use social media for mutual aims, you need to protect your brand and business from peril. Clear and specific copyright, privacy and confidentiality clauses need to be included in this policy, as well as what company information can and cannot be shared. 

Of course, the social media policy also aims to prevent as much as is feasible, negative sentiments that result from actions by employees towards the company. This can include:

Defamatory posts about the company Public criticizing of specific company employees or management Sharing explicit content Breaching and/or stealing confidential information Violating the privacy of a customer or another employee

The Washington Post did a very thorough job of protecting their business and being very clear what employees may and may not do on social media.

4. Provide brand style guidelines

Employees may be hard-working and enthusiastic about their workplace, but honing and harnessing that energy to grow your brand requires some investment. A brand style guideline is your opportunity to show employees how your existing brand standards can be extended to social media.

skype brand management

5. Set boundaries

Getting your employees involved is crucial, but you need to set clear boundaries. One of the most important parts of your employee social media policy is the line you draw between what is personal social media, what is professional.

You have marketing and PR and SEO and content departments to get the word out. That’s their job. Not the job of clerks or CEOs. Best Buy and Walmart have perfect examples of how to set boundaries without going too far, especially with constant customer interaction.

6. Encourage employee advocacy

Your employees can be your new greatest marketing asset, but you need to draw them in. While it’s clear there need to be boundaries, this is an opportunity for brand promotion and lead generation that requires little resource investment. 

There are a wide range of tools to get your started, but your social media strategy will determine which are relevant. These are just some of the measured benefits of promoting employee advocacy:

7. Measure effectiveness

None of these steps and measures will be worth anything if you can’t quantify the results. Analyzing the impact of employee activities on brand sentiment and customer engagement can help you improve and tweak your social media policy, among others.

Employee input here is key as well. Beyond statistics and numbers, you need to ensure your social media policy is actually contributing and not hampering their productivity and your relationship with them.

Social media policies were once a long, winding list of limitations aimed at discouraging employees from using social media in any way that could potentially hurt their employer’s business. While protecting your company and its assets should always be paramount, draconian bans on social media during work time just won’t fly in 2020. Moreover, by gagging your employees online you are missing out on a huge potential for growth and positive brand sentiment your employees can provide, as they say, at no extra charge.

As the COVID-19 crisis has proved, the presence and involvement of your employees as part of your company on social media is both inevitable and potentially beneficial. A clear and positive social media policy for employees can be an invaluable tool at times of crisis. It will also grant you access to a unique audience – the social media followers of your employees.

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