You Don’t Need A Lawyer To Write A Social Media Policy. Here’s What You Need To Know.

You Don't Need A Lawyer To Write A Social Media Policy. Here's What You Need To Know.

Something about the word “policy” just has “lawyer” written all over it, doesn’t it? It’s right up there with “contract” and “service agreement”.

But if you run a small business you know how important contracts and agreements are when it comes to “no, we can’t do that thing ten more times” and “show me the money”.

Maybe you had a lawyer draw one up, but most times those are written in complex legalese that nobody reads, mostly because nobody understands them anyway. We once spent several thousand dollars to have a 12-page service contract drawn up that we could append to all our projects. I’ll spare you the details except to say that we now have two-page contracts written in plain English that tells it like it is.

Policies can fall into the same quagmire of verbiage. And when that happens we tend to relegate them to the same sphere as contracts: ok for big businesses and red-tape-y corporations but not for me and my small business, thanks.

I’m here to tell you that’s not true. Not only are policies – and specifically, social media policies – important for the smallest of small businesses, but they can be a piece of cake to write.

Here are some things to consider as you create yours.

Why You Need One

True story: a number of years ago, when social media was just starting to hit the scene, we had a production assistant who we assigned the task of sending out our content to Twitter. We had no particular policy at the time, beyond, “Here, tweet this.”

As a result, our assistant took a “one for you, one-two for me” approach. She would post our tweet, then post one to her account, check hers, check ours, all using the same tool and login. There was no separation of church and state, if you will.

At some point we noticed a long stream of odd personal tweets going out on our account. As it turned out, she had mixed them up and was posting to the wrong place. An honest mistake, nothing offensive or questionable and so easily remedied, but embarrassment could have been avoided with some simple guidelines and precautions.

For any business with a social media account, it pays to set guidelines, a couple of rules and some dos-and-don’ts. Even if it’s just you and a single Twitter account, with no employees to speak of, a social media policy can help guide your activities, take some of the guesswork out and keep you on track.

For businesses with more than one employee, it’s exponentially important that everyone is on the same page and understands the whys and whats of your social marketing.

How To Write One

It’s easy. Grab a pen. Open up Evernote. Start a new Word document. Whatever works for you. And write down, in plain English, the things that are important to you when it comes to managing your social marketing.

Write down the things that you want to do and the things that you don’t want to do. Write down good ideas and bad ideas. Writ down examples of successes and failures you can point to when you think about managing a good campaign.

Mostly, get clear in your own head on what social marketing means to you, why you’re doing it and how you’ll be doing it.

This doesn’t have to be a term paper. It doesn’t even have to be more than a paragraph if that’s what works for you. And know that whatever you write now will change over time in a million ways.

When we first wrote down our social “rules” we thought we’d covered every base in the history of engagement. Then about two days went by and we realized we’d left ten things out. Then another day went by and we realized we’d overcomplicated it and deleted a few things.

Don’t get hung up. Just start. Here are a few things you can start with, depending on your goals, your needs and the size of your organization. Skip the parts that don’t matter. Add more if you think of them.

What’s Your Social Purpose?

Make it clear why you’re engaging in social media. That will serve you whether you’re a solo or a 100-person operation.

State your goals. A couple of bullet points will do.

Who Is Your Audience?

There’s no point in using social networks if you don’t know who you’re being social with. What’s the point of any of your goals? Of your content?

By outlining your audience you’ll keep everyone on track knowing just who they’re speaking to. It will affect what you post, your tone, your approach and just about everything you do.

What’s Ok To Say?

Knowing “why” and “who” will help you dig down to the “how”. This can be as simple as figuring out your “voice” and tone or as detailed as reiterating the views of your company.

Sometimes you’ll see personal Twitter accounts where the person will work for a big company but say “views here are my own”. That means somewhere there are  “views of the company”. What are those? What does your company stand for? How should you – and shouldn’t you – speak online and address your community?

What’s Ok To Share?

Again this goes back to the “why”. If you know that then you can determine the types of content that can be shared. This can include specifics about the format of content (ie: “we prefer a 50-50 ratio of photos to text”) or about the content itself (“funny is ok as long as it relates to our brand, but never political”).

You may have a library of photos or a catalog of resources. Tell people what they are and where to find them.

What’s Never Ok To Be Shared?

Beyond the “inappropriate” you may want to include things that your company considers confidential. For example, you may take a lot of photography of customers or employees but not have releases to publish all of them online. You may have certain “trade secrets” or financials or other sensitive information that you want to protect.

Don’t leave it up to chance that everyone knows this. Put it in writing.

Who Can Post On Behalf Of Your Company?

A business with one or two employees may not find this too challenging but once you start adding more people or even assistants, even if they’re part-time, you want to be clear about who is qualified to represent your company.

Define the roles and responsibilities of each person. You don’t need an entire job description. This can be as simple as “you do the research” and “you do the creative”. That way everyone knows their job, even if there is overlap, and nobody has to guess.

What Is Your Approval Process?

Even a solo needs a process! First, it will take the burden off of you having to figure out what to do every time you do it. Make a simple step-by-step plan for creating, curating and posting content.

For bigger companies, and depending on your roles and responsibilities, you should lay out the process for social sharing. In our company, we have one person do the curating but another do the vetting of the content and someone else pull together the creative. At no point does someone just “shoot something off” because it sounded good at the time. It may seem like overkill to get approval for every post but you’d be surprised by how effective a tiny bit of oversight can be. Maybe you’ll avoid a typo. Or maybe you’ll avoid a real snafu when someone else looks at your post and says, “Um… maybe not?”

What Regulations Or Legalities Do You Have To Contend With?

We have several financial clients who go through an incredible amount of red tape when it comes to their online presences. Their websites must be approved by regulators before they can be changed and they are often forbidden from using social networks. When they can use one, like LinkedIn, there are certain things they can and cannot say by law.

If your industry is governed by legalities or regulations, those must be clearly stated so that you and anyone who works for you is aware of them.

What Are The Training Requirements?

When you hire someone new, you’re not going to hand them your policy and let them loose. Figure out what you require by way of getting new hires acclimated and who is responsible for that training.

Especially now that the world seems awash with “social media experts” it’s important to remember that just because someone has a smart phone and can check their Facebook page, it doesn’t mean they know how to manage a social community. And even if they do, it doesn’t mean thy know how to manage your community.

Take the time and steps necessary to prepare them, but first, write those steps down so they won’t be overlooked.

How Is Customer Engagement Handled?

When a customer complains, who responds? And what is the remedy? If someone complains that your product is a piece of junk, do you really want your intern jumping in and offering a refund? Or do you have a better way to handle the conversation?

When someone has a question, who responds? And how quickly should you respond?

When someone comments, shares, likes, tweets, follows… who responds and how?

This may seem like minutia but the better you can document, the less likely you’ll have to wonder, “Now what?” Or worse… say or do something regrettable.

What’s Your Stance On Personal Accounts?

For some of us, there’s a fine-to-non-existent line between personal and business. For others, it’s wide and dark.

I know someone whose company will not allow its employees to have a personal Facebook page. Although that’s a bit extreme, you may want to be mindful of how your employees reflect on your brand when you’re not looking. It’s why those Twitter accounts say “views are my own”.

Think about whether you want to tackle such disclaimers and the type of attitude you’d like to cultivate within your organization. While you can’t stop someone from posting their naked, drunken photos to Facebook, you can set some policies about how people speak about your brand and the type of information they disclose.

What Are The Consequences Of Violating The Policy?

Mistakes happen. So does sabotage. There’s no point in having a policy if you don’t stick to it.

When someone goes off the reservation, what happens? If it’s an honest mistake, it might just take a bit of gentle reminding (even if it’s you!) If it keeps happening, some re-training might be in order. If it’s malicious or even just plain thoughtless, it’s up to you to decide how you’ll handle it.

Make it clear and you won’t be stuck wondering about what to do later.

Make Notes And Go

I hope that by now you have a few ideas of your own for putting together a social media policy for your business. Whether it turns out to be a couple of bullet points or a couple of pages, it can be invaluable in guiding your efforts and taking the burden off of you to be constantly reinventing and rethinking and second-guessing.

If you need guidance or have questions about what you should be thinking about for your specific needs, let me know. I’m happy to work with you brainstorming, writing or sharing my experiences and insights with you.