Gap Inc., struggling to make its brands stand out in today’s crowded marketplace, is turning its workforce loose on social media in an attempt to recreate some of the buzz for which it was known in the ’80s and ’90s. The clothier—which operates the Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and Athleta chains—gives each of its 134,000 employees a no-nonsense social media policy, and nowhere does it recommend to “just cinch it.” The policy is broken down into three categories, “Keep in mind,” “How to be the best,” and “Don’t even think about it.” The guidelines were presented last week by Gap Inc.’s social media team as part of a crisis communication conference, hosted by U.K.-based Ethical Corp. The guidelines are not posted for the public, but highlights were taken directly from the handy, iPhone-size, five-fold brochure given to each employee. The brochure is titled: “OMG you will never guess what happened at work today!!” The policy should serve as a guide on how a large, multinational corporation can strip away the legalese and provide a real-world manual on social media that keeps the company’s best interests in mind. Even the warnings are conversational:
“These guidelines are important—because if you don’t follow them a few things could happen: your posts can get deleted, we could lose customers and investors, we could get in trouble, or, worst of all, you could even lose your job … So do the right thing, stick to the guidelines.”
Keep in mind… There’s really no such thing as “delete” on the Internet, so please—think before you post. Some subjects can invite a flame war. Be careful discussing things where emotions run high (e.g. politics and religion) and show respect for others’ opinions. It’s a small world and we’re a global company. Remember that what you say can be seen by customers and employees all over the world and something you say in one country might be inaccurate or offensive in another. Respect other people’s stuff. Just because something’s online doesn’t mean it’s OK to copy it. Your job comes first. Unless you are an authorized Social Media Manager, don’t let social media affect your job performance. How to be the best … Play nice. Be respectful and considerate, no trolling, troll baiting, or flaming anybody, even our competitors. Be yourself. Be the first to out that you are a Gap Inc. employee—and make it clear that you are not a company spokesperson. If you #!%#@# up? Correct it immediately and be clear about what you’ve done to fix it. Contact the social media team if it’s a real doozy. Add value. Make sure your posts really add to the conversation. If it promotes Gap Inc.’s goals and values, supports our customers, improves or helps us sell products, or helps us do our jobs better, then you are adding value. Don’t even think about it…
Talking about financial information, sales trends, strategies, forecasts, legal issues, future promotional activities. Giving out personal information about customers or employees. Posting confidential or non-public information. Responding to an offensive or negative post by a customer. There’s no winner in that game.
As you can see, Gap Inc. has figured out a social media policy doesn’t have to come from the legal department, and that a straightforward, conversational tone probably makes the greatest impact with employees. It covers everything, but it doesn’t beat you over the head. Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor with 20 years of communications experience. He heads up the crisis communication/issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.