You can sum up the case for a social media policy in four words: better safe than sorry.
As companies dedicate an increasing amount of resources to social media marketing, there are more "what ifs?"
What if an employee decides to use his personal Facebook account to network with clients? What if a community member posts an inflammatory comment on your Facebook page?
A strategically-conceived policy can help answer these questions and ensure your company can appropriately handle any issues that arise. Unfortunately, a recent study by PayScale revealed that only 53 percent of companies have a formal social media policy.
Organizations should take the time to develop a social media policy to address the "what ifs" and answer the following questions:
1. What constitutes appropriate content?
Community members, employees and management may not share a common definition of appropriate content. By developing a social media policy, companies can ensure everyone plays by the same rules, and that brand ambassadors have a clear understanding of what constitutes appropriate use.
With this policy as a guide, organizations can manage the expectations of their online communities by including a brief description of the platform's intended use as part of their profiles. For example:
"The Widget Factory's Facebook page is an online forum for members of the widget community to exchange stories and ideas. To keep the community enjoyable for all, we ask that you not use profane language in your posts and comments."
2. How will your company handle the personal-professional hybrid?
The lines between professional and personal lives are blurry.
Many of us answer work emails from our personal smartphones. For some, weekends include time in the office or time spent working remotely. And many people don't have dedicated Facebook and Twitter accounts for their personal and professional lives.
This blend of personal and professional activities alone is reason enough to develop a social media policy.
3. How will you use social media to communicate during a crisis?
When disaster strikes, the last thing any organization needs is people on the inside sharing their opinions on social media. Take the time to let your team know how you will handle social media in a crisis and what the company's policy is on divulging crisis-related information.
4. Who is authorized to represent the brand on social media?
Our agency often works with nonprofit organizations that have multiple social media accounts for the same platform—all of which were started by well-meaning individuals.
This makes it difficult to build a centralized community, and can lead to mixed messaging. It also means these organizations sometimes find themselves with accounts that nobody can access.
Within your social media policy, clearly identify who is authorized to serve as a brand ambassador. Take the time to outline criteria for who can and cannot create and maintain individual brand ambassador accounts for the company, and what the terms are for operating such accounts.
5. Is it OK to update Facebook at work?
The answer will vary depending on the type of company.
At a PR, advertising, or social media marketing agency, the answer is most likely "yes." However, some companies do not permit social media use at work. Don't make employees guess. Take the time to include a section on social media use at work.
When you develop a social media policy, use clear, concise language and confirm that all employees have read and agreed to the policy terms. This will not only reduce the likelihood of an incident, but ensure that a protocol is in place to address violations and manage the fallout of unflattering or inappropriate online commentary.
Danielle M. Cyr is director of social media for Co-Communications. A version of this article first appeared on the Co-Communications blog. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleCyr.