If employees’ inappropriate online posts can be traced back to your organization, they immediately become your problem, too.
It’s early on a Monday, but your office is already buzzing. At first, this seems like a good thing—your employees are hitting the ground running to start off the week—but your excitement turns to dread when you overhear someone say, “Can you believe what Joe from sales tweeted yesterday?”
We’ve all cringed and laughed at articles about social media mishaps, and we’ve sworn that we’ll never be one of those people. Now, Joe from sales is one of those people, and because his Twitter bio says he works for your company, it’s your problem, too.
For several years, it’s been a goal of mine to help leaders prevent this from happening at their companies. A key ingredient is creating a social media policy—precautionary guidelines that help keep your brand from becoming the focal point of Monday morning’s gossip hour.
The goal isn’t to stifle your employees’ personal social media freedom. Rather, it’s to maintain consistent messaging and to limit your company’s chances of facing a public relations nightmare.
When creating your policy, here are five big things to keep in mind:
1. Don’t assume all your employees understand social media. Most employees—especially the younger ones—will have a fundamental knowledge of why social media exists, but that’s no excuse for you not to spell it out for everyone. What one employee doesn’t know could come back to bite you. Our company is built on social media, so you’d expect that most everyone we hire is a social media expert. Even for us, it’s been important to provide education and training on social media basics. Whether it’s a salesperson who wants to learn about online selling or an engineer who wants to improve his or her LinkedIn presence, these are important things in today’s social media environment, and we feel it’s vital to support our employees in those areas.
2. Provide a definition of the landscape. Every social media channel is different; what goes viral on one platform could easily flop on a different one. An informal, “Hey BFFs, who needs a job and wants to work with me at my awesome company?” might be suitable for Facebook, but that same post probably won’t look so good on a more professional platform like LinkedIn. There is no hard and fast rule as to what goes where; it differs for everyone. Some people prefer to post only job-related content on LinkedIn, whereas others have no problem at all sharing it to Facebook. Our recommendation is to be authentic and to apply common sense. If you’re posting lots of personal anecdotes on Twitter and not getting any engagement, that’s a good sign your followers don’t care for it. We encourage experimentation and diversification.
3. Maintain authenticity. The beautiful thing about social media is that every person has the opportunity to broadcast his or her voice. As I said earlier, your social media policy shouldn’t stifle that. Instead, it should help add a personable element to your brand—putting a face to the name, if you will. My company prides itself on being unique and approachable, so in creating our policy, we wanted our associates’ voices to be truly theirs. We are relaxed about vocabulary and tone, but not every company can afford to be so lenient. If you don’t need a tight rein, loosen your grip a little. Your employees will thank you kindly.
4. Define confidentiality. Not everything that happens within a company’s walls is meant for public consumption. When creating your social media policy, draw a clear line as to what can be posted, tweeted and shared (and what should be kept under wraps). It should be crystal clear to employees what is and isn’t off limits. The vast majority of content we produce in our sales and marketing departments is preapproved and distributed directly to employees in a way that encourages them to share it with their networks. Our employees know that if it’s delivered to them, it’s meant to be shared with the world. If it doesn’t get to them through that workflow, it’s off limits. Having these guidelines in place make confidentiality and compliance a non-issue for us.
5. Make sure your employees see the value of their voice. Today, peer recommendations are the most effective form of marketing. If your employees have personal social media accounts—and chances are they do—empowering them to share content and spread the good word about your brand is essential. Consumers will almost always take the word of a friend or peer over some anonymous user review (or someone named pixiegurl247, for that matter) on Yelp. I am sure to communicate to my employees that their social presence has directly boosted traffic to our website and blog. Sometimes their posts drive more than 90 percent of our traffic.
Your employees’ voices are potential powerhouses for your company—but only if they know how to use them appropriately. Your social media policy should provide precise guidance while allowing them to be themselves.
With a great policy in place, leaders can drive website traffic, boost sales, increase public perception and prevent their companies from becoming America’s next cringe-worthy headline.
Russ Fradin is a digital media industry veteran and an angel investor with more than 15 years of experience in online marketing. He is founder and CEO of Dynamic Signal, the leading platform for empowering employees to be effective brand advocates. A version of this article first appeared on BusinessCollective, which, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.