Create a Social Media Policy

By Maria Carter, June 27, 2013

Social media policies come in all shapes and sizes. Some are short and concise, some use humorous examples to get the point across and others carry on for pages. Whatever the format and tone, these guidelines should establish best practices for employee communications on social networks, and they also should outline a plan for internal social media marketing.

If you’re trying to decide in the moment if an update is more appropriate for your professional or personal Facebook page, you’re more likely to skip it and never come back to it, which may be a missed marketing opportunity, says Sara Lingafelter, a social media strategist with Rogue Outreach and former attorney who specializes in organizational social infrastructure and policy. It sounds like a no-brainer, but in a world of juggling multiple events, developing a social media policy may be the last thing on an event planner’s mind. It shouldn’t be. Here are a few quick guidelines for creating a social policy.

Who Should You Involve?

Most importantly, your attorney. “Most organizations who draft their own policies want to protect the their reputation. This often leads to policies that are too broad and violate the National Labor Relations Act,” says Ruth Carter, attorney and author of “The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed.” “[They] are more likely to be in compliance with this law if the focus of their policy is to respect their employees’ First Amendment rights and on educating their employees about the long-term effects a single post can have on a person’s professional life.” Carter adds that with the National Labor Relations Board releasing new reports on a regular basis, companies should review and update policies often.

Attorney Arif A. Mahmood, who advises
 businesses and legal organizations on intellectual property issues and social
 media policy, also warns of the potentially serious ramifications of a social media misstep. Sure, you can easily delete something after it goes online, but anything you put on the Web has a footprint. “It is permanent, instantly public and unretractable…Drafting a policy reminds the owner and employees that the potential audience is unlimited and may include reactionary readers who may have personal connections on the topic, and also parties related to clients who may have different perspectives.”

What Should You Include?

The following items should be part of an organization’s social media policy:

1. A statement explaining what the policy applies to. For example, it could say “multiple platforms, including but not limited to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, for both personal and professional use.”

2. Online etiquette basics such as instructions on how to talk about the company, best practices for personal and professional usage, and a reminder of what information is proprietary and cannot be shared online. “Generally the risks of misuse by a business owner include unintentionally saying something offensive, divulging private information, or infringing on copyright or trademark rights,” says Mahmood. “The risks of misuse by employees is greater, often due to a lack of sensitivity of the impact of statements on the business itself. This is especially true as employees may be using their personal accounts and may discuss the event planning industry generally through their own accounts, feeling free to mix in personal observations.”

When communicating on behalf of your company, always identify yourself and your title and/or role. For personal handles and profiles, you may want employees to use a disclaimer such as “The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the [organization’s] name.”

3. Clear, established boundaries between the organization, personal brand and personal life. “If you’re a sole owner/operator, you may want to primarily market your personal name. If that’s the case, then you’ll need to be careful with personal privacy settings on Facebook, and perhaps adopt a pseudonym for personal activities on Twitter and Instagram,” says Lingafelter.

4. Guidelines for talking about clients. If you plan to tweet about record registrations, post crowd shots of attendees on Instagram or announce recent events on LinkedIn, get client permission first. “Your social media policy and your engagement agreements with clients should jive with regard to what you have and don’t have permission to post from or about client events, and using client names and likenesses,” says Lingafelter. “You may need to update your engagement agreement accordingly, then honor what your clients agree to.”

5. Proactive encouragement. Give employees examples of what they can do, as opposed to listing all the things they should not do. Many associations struggle with getting a fresh stream of lively, relevant content to their followers, but this is one realm where event planners may have an advantage, suggests Lingafelter. “With rich photos and stories both of completed camera-ready events and fun behind-the-scenes glimpses…event planners are one of the rare groups who may struggle with having too much content to share.”

6. A plan of action. Arm employees with instructions on how and when to respond to complaints and negative feedback. “Don’t shy away from engaging in hot topics in public,” says Lingafelter. “A simple ‘holding message’ to let the complainer know that you’ve heard them and are looking into the issue doesn’t promise a follow-up but does acknowledge that they’ve been heard. You may need to shuttle the conversation to the phone…but remember that they chose social media as the channel to reach out, and that means they’d likely prefer a response via social.”

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