Social Media Ethics: Why You Should Have a Policy

Author: Steve James

A social media policy helps employers put guidelines into place for the organization and its employees.Now ingrained into the very fabric of our culture is social media; there’s no escaping it. And in the workplace? It’s just the same. Social media has become a valuable business tool to connect with customers, promote your brand, and expand on your online marketing voice. It can even be fun! 

Gone are the days of a social media policy merely stating, “No social media in the workplace.” Avoiding social media can seem closed off, and dated. But opening yourself up to social media can still be a bit of a logistics issue. How should it be used to best represent the company online? This is where a social media policy comes into play.

According to the Pew Research Center, only 32% of employees say their employers have any kind of rules about how they present themselves on the internet. This means that two-thirds of companies don’t have guidelines or strategies in place to deal with social media use. And if an issue arises? It can be hard for them to know how to handle it.

What is a Social Media Policy (and Why Do You Need One)?

A social media policy is put in place by an employer to provide guidelines for how the organization and its employees should handle social media use. It covers the official channels for your brand, as well as your employees’ personal and professional accounts as well. 

Just like the constitution, your social media policing should be a "living" document.Like the Constitution, your social media policy should be a “living document.” Technology, and especially social media, is evolving at breakneck speed, and so your social media policy should change and evolve to reflect those changes too.

 A social media policy you create today will seem out of date in a year or so - maybe even in a matter of months, so both you and your employees need to know that your policy is always changing and evolving.

What else constitutes a great social media policy? A solid social media policy is straightforward, honest, and up-to-date, so that there are no questions about what is, and isn’t an acceptable use of various social media platforms. 

Social media can really boost your business. In fact, when companies respond to customer service requests via social media, those customers spend 20-40% more time with those companies. 

There’s a lot you can do with social media to make connections with the general public, promote brand awareness, and educate followers about the tone and persona of your brand, so if you embrace it, social media can be a powerful tool, when used correctly. 

Because of this, your social media policy doesn’t have to be a harsh list full of “don’ts.” Instead, it should be a way to encourage your team to use it to its full potential, while still representing your brand as positively as possible. 

As the online landscape continues to change, evolve, and mature, the opportunities for your employees to communicate with each other, and with the general public, are evolving too. While social media creates fantastic new opportunities for your personal expression, it also creates new responsibilities, which means you need a social media policy to navigate how best to use it. 

Who Does a Social Media Policy Cover?

Your social media policy should clearly state who should adhere to the guidelines.So who is covered under your social media policy? Who needs to be made aware? As you are creating your social media policy, this is up to you. 

Your permanent employees all need to be made aware of your social media policy, but you also have to decide: Does your policy extend to temporary and seasonal workers? Does it also apply to contract or freelance workers? As you bring new people onto your team, they all need to be aware of your policy, and how it applies to them.

Another consideration? Whoever has access to your brand channels should have very clear guidelines about who covers different responsibilities, and about what your expectations are for how they interact with the general public via your brand’s pages. 

This gives your social media marketing team permission to grow your online persona, develop your brand, and catch the attention of new clientele via your brand channels, while still giving them guidelines as to what is expected of them. It’s a win-win.

Are you working with a larger team? It may be a good idea to include the names and company email addresses of who in your team is responsible for handling your social media. If nothing else, you can clarify who is authorized to speak on behalf of your brand online -- and who isn’t.

What Should Be in Your Social Media Policy?

Your social media policy should include what is expected of your business online, and how employees create an online reputation.Your social media is a reflection of your business, so when you are creating a policy, you need to address how your employees can best use social media to grow your brand. 

Where a business’s social media policy of the past felt restrictive and limiting, we know that social media is now an inevitable part of human interaction, so your present-day policy should be considered a framework that will help your employees use social media to its full potential.

Your policy should include information about what is expected of your business online, and your employees, to create an online reputation that lives up to the great work you do every day.

Here are some elements to consider adding to your policy:

  • The purpose of social media in your business
  • Examples of responsible usage
  • The importance of including valid information about your business (to establish credibility and authenticity)
  • Information about your social media marketing voice
  • Information about your buyer persona
  • Expectations of how employees interact with the general public
  • Expectations for maintaining your business’s online security and confidentiality 
  • How social media fits in with marketing, client interaction, and day-to-day operations

Social media can be an important tool your company uses to connect with customers and clients, but you need to acknowledge that its “powers” can be used for both “good and evil.”

Other Things to Consider

What goes into your social media policy? Truthfully, it’s up to you. Here are a few additional items to consider adding to your policy.

Your social media policy should include protocol for social media security tactics.Security: There are a lot of security risks that accompany corporate social media accounts. You don’t want to be like HBO, who’s Twitter accounts were hacked back in 2017, risking their security, and probably a few potential Game of Thrones spoilers too. 

So how do you prevent this from happening? By establishing security protocols. Who has access to your brand channels? And how frequently do you change your passwords? Just as important, how often do you update software to strengthen your devices and accounts from hacking? 

You can create protocols for all these questions in your social media policy so that when questions or problems arise, there is already a plan in place for how to deal with it.

Using Social Media at Work: How do you want your employees to interact with social media at the workplace? This used to be a cut-and-dried response; that no one was to use social media at work. 

But now that 80% of social media users expect a business to respond to their social media queries within 24 hours, you can’t ignore the power of social media as a tool to market your company and make lasting connections with customers. 

So what you must consider is, who uses social media in the workplace, and how do they use it?

Personal Accounts: 68% of U.S adults use Facebook, so there’s no denying that your employees use social media. Do you want to provide guidelines for how they use it? That’s up to you, but it’s probably a good idea. You may want to consider adding these items to your policy:

  • Can employees friend customers using their personal accounts?
  • How should employees talk about your business on their personal accounts?
  • How should employees interact with your professional page?
  • What should employees consider before posting on their personal accounts?

The New York Times has 3 guidelines for employees’ social media use, and they are:

  • Is this something that needs to be shared?
  • Is this something that needs to be shared by you?
  • Is this something that needs to be shared right now?

Dell’s social media policy is another example of how to encourage employees to best use personal accounts, reminding them that they can be both, “Champions on behalf of the company,” and, “A representative of Dell” in all their online interactions. Your employees can do the same.

Are you ready to create a social media policy for your business? With the right foundation, your social media policy will put processes and protocol into place to help build your brand in the most positive way possible.  

Editors Note: This post was originally published in March, 2012 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Topics: Ethics, Business Ethics, Communication, Business, social media, Social Media Policy

About the Author:

Partner at Stream Creative.

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