Gini Dietrich

Fourteen Social Media Policy Must Haves

By: Gini Dietrich | October 29, 2012 | 

I am not an attorney. I don’t even play one on TV (though I did really want to go to law school so I could be a sports agent, but that’s neither here nor there).

But I am a communications professional who spends a lot of time online and I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, you need a social media policy.

I spend a significant amount of time on the road, speaking to business owners, entrepreneurs, and leaders and what I’ve discovered is a very small minority have policies.

You have an employee handbook. Your employees know how to answer the phone, what to put in their email signature, even what to wear to trade shows. But you haven’t told them how to behave online.

The Legal Ramifications

Peter Fischer, an attorney at Stokes Roberts & Wagner, says it’s best to have a policy with a signature line on it where employees put their John Hancock.

In accordance with National Labor Relations Board laws, he recommends the following:

  1. Employers cannot restrict anyone from commenting on his or her work life.
  2. Employers can make sure employees sign confidentiality provisions.
  3. Employees can’t lie.

There aren’t clear cut laws (yet) on what can and can’t be said by employees – or how employers react – on the social networks.

That said, if a group of employees complains about a policy or procedure on their personal Facebook pages, the NLRB allows that. But, if a single employee posts something harmful to the company, the employer has more rights.

For instance, a few weeks ago, a young lady tweeted that she hated her job and her boss. The CEO of the company saw the tweet and tweeted her back, “That’s good because you no longer work here.”

The Social Media Policy

But don’t worry. It’s not as scary as it seems. Your social media policy doesn’t need to be drawn out and overly legal. It can be an addendum to your employee handbook.

It should include:

  1. Be transparent. State where you work and, if you’re distributing content for a client, make that clear.
  2. Don’t lie. Don’t misrepresent the organization, your customers, or your competitors.
  3. Be meaningful and respectful. Don’t spam or argue.
  4. Use common sense and common courtesy. If in doubt, don’t post.
  5. Stick to areas of expertise.
  6. Do offer insight and wisdom, but don’t provide any confidential information.
  7. Don’t swear.
  8. Be polite. Don’t be antagonistic.
  9. Do not comment on any legal matters or litigation.
  10. If the topic is one of crisis, do not comment.
  11. Google has a long memory. Be smart about what you post.
  12. Don’t post about competition unless you have written consent from them to do so.
  13. If you use social media on behalf of clients, please double check you’re updating from the correct account.
  14. Don’t be stupid.

Of course, these are just guidelines and you do want your attorney to review whatever it is you put together.

If you need help, there is a directory of social media policies already written and legally approved that you can use for your templates.

What else do you think should be included in a social media policy?

A version of this first appeared in my weekly Crain’s Chicago Business column. 

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • bobledrew

    I have an ongoing affection for IBM’s social computing guidelines. Their 12 “rules” or principles are well worth imitating.

    • @bobledrew I love “don’t pick fights.” Awesome.

  • John_Trader1

    The one thing I would stress is that a policy should technically come before a plan but it’s never too late to put a policy in place if a plan already exists. Also, take responsibility for what you write, refrain from offensive jokes or comments, and stay away from discussions on religion or politics, unless it directly relates to your business. Above all, don’t make promises you can’t keep!

    • @John_Trader1 I wish everyone would do the “stay away from discussions on religion or politics.” This is why I like you so much, John. You is smaht.

      • @ginidietrich  @John_Trader1 Agreed. I’ve seen a few local businesses weigh in on controversial religious and political stuff, and it never ends well.

        • @KenMueller  @ginidietrich  @John_Trader1 You know, I go back and forth on this. While I generally stay away from political and religious debates on the interwebz, there’s something to be said for a business making their views known on specific issues, right? Makes it pretty easy for a consumer to make the decision whether or not to support that specific business. 
          There’s a locally-owned donut shop here in the area that made waves during the early ACA debates by running some pretty controversial billboards. The owner is well-known for getting very controversial re: his media buys.  I don’t support his business because I don’t agree with his politics and because I find his advertising to be in poor taste, but his business has, in this largely conservative part of the state, done well because you could argue that his political opinions align with local sentiments. And sometimes you just want a Boston Creme.

        • @jasonkonopinski  @KenMueller  @John_Trader1 There are two things we’re taught never to talk about in public: Religion and politics because you will never change a person’s mind about their beliefs and it only serves to offend someone. We have LOTS of clients who are on the opposite side of the political aisle from me. I know better than to talk about it, even when they bring it up. Not worth losing clients over.

  • All very important. Especially #14.

    • @KenMueller Mr. D said, “I can’t believe your wrote don’t be stupid on there.” Um, why?

      • @ginidietrich Your response should have been “Don’t be stupid!”. But for me, I’d move that from #14 to #1. It pretty much sums up the whole thing.

        • @KenMueller Except, like I told @belllindsay , it’s more memorable as the last thing you read.

        • @ginidietrich  @belllindsay Very true. Like it’s more memorable when it’s the last thing you say to Mr. D.

        • @KenMueller  @belllindsay EXACTLY!

        • belllindsay

          @ginidietrich  @KenMueller LMAO!!!

  • #14 is my favorite…

    • magriebler

      @yvettepistorio A great tip for avoiding #14: Don’t hire stupid.

      • @magriebler  @yvettepistorio Now I feel like I probably should have explained #14. That’s like saying common sense is common.

        • magriebler

          @ginidietrich  @yvettepistorio I wish common sense was like oxygen: everywhere. But it’s not.

  • mdyoder

    I’m a big fan of Ford Motor company’s policy

    • @mdyoder And it’s pretty. And you can download it. Love!

  • magriebler

    I think a plan for implementing a social media policy is as important as what’s in it. I remember the first time I signed one of these, many moons ago. My employer back then didn’t explain the need for it but was very clear in outlining the consequences of noncompliance. Staff was terrified and morale took a nice dip. It was all very silly, because it was actually a wonderful place to work, and what a huge missed opportunity to talk to us about the brave new world of online communication.
    And a social media policy is not going to solve organizational issues that haven’t been addressed.
    Happy/satisfied employees who understand the brand (even if they’re not in a communications role) will rarely violate this kind of policy out of ill will because the organization will help them understand what’s in it for them. We all appreciate, even welcome, parameters.
    What I love about a social media policy done right is that it’s a great opportunity to really engage with a very important audience — employees — about organizational goals and their role in achieving them. Make it clear that a good policy is good for them too.

    • @magriebler I am just back from a speaking engagement and one of the questions was, “How do I monitor how much time my employees spend on the social networks?” Of course, I was kind about it, but essentially said if you have to monitor it, you have an operations issue. Everyone should be able to use the social networks to communicate, no matter what their role. And yes, that means understanding how it works so you can have a policy that makes sense.

      • magriebler

        @ginidietrich Exactly. It’s not about control; it’s about a partnership.

  • belllindsay

    I think Don’t Be Stupid should be number 1. 🙂

    • @belllindsay I did it as the last one so it would be remembered. Forever.

  • Don’t set up those horrible automatic DMs for new followers on Twitter.

  • It still amazes that people (especially those dissatisfied with their current jobs and looking) regularly say things on their social outposts that will absolutely be checked by potential employers. During my interview process with Vocus, they made direct mention of my blog and specific content areas.  
    Case in point: I have an acquaintance (CPA) currently looking for a new gig who regularly complains about colleagues, clients (!!!!!) and general life matters via social, often using crude and uncouth language. She definitely won’t be getting any offers anytime soon, that’s for sure.

    • @jasonkonopinski Did you see that tweet about a year ago that I mention in the blog post? It amazes me what people will post. Hence, #14.

      • @ginidietrich Aye, I do recall that one.  In most circumstances, I’d say it’s less about true stupidity and more a complete misreading of what is (and is not) covered by freedom of speech. Thinking that makes me sleep a bit easier anyhow. 🙂

        • @jasonkonopinski That’s why it’s so important to have it outlined in a social media policy.

        • @ginidietrich No argument here!

  • Yes, let’s tell people use common sense and not be stupid. That works all the time.
    Unfortunately, what’s stupid to you isn’t stupid to me. Similarly, what’s common sense to both of us might not be common sense for John Doe in customer service.
    Social media policies need to walk employees through the gray areas. So many of these decisions are left up to employee interpretation. When the policy is up for interpretation as well, employees are left in the dark.

    • @JayDolan But what is stupid to both of us is not checking to see which account you’re tweeting from before you say something offensive about a client or colleague.

      • @ginidietrich Which reminds me of something I need to do later this afternoon.

  • What Jay said… Ya know, about the gray areas

    • @TonyBennett Such a good comment! I can see you’re back on your game after being away from home for two weeks.

      • @ginidietrich yes, I really had to think that one through! Besides, Jay basically said what I was going to say, I didn’t want to get the rep of being a copycat

  • I like #14 best.

  • Eduardo Morlan

    An excellent article about linking your job and social networks. Think about what you express and remain calm for the rest of your live. Common sense and intelligence are the values to be used and exerted. Congratulations, @ginidietrich  and a MUST for my friends and learners.

  • Pingback: #KimberPicks – October 29 | KimberMedia()

  • Open shared doc, cut, paste, wait for PDF prettification, send five emails. Done. Thanks Gini!

    • @Tinu LOL!! Glad that was helpful. You’re hilarious!

  • Before I say this I KNOW that I am lucky to be self employed, but in this day and age how can you be so naive as to post anti-work related comments and think you won’t be heard???
    What’s even more mind boggling is how many large, respected companies DON’T have a Social Media Policy yet.  Do you know how many times I’ve had an initial meeting and informed the potential client that yes, indeed, they DID have a FB and Twitter account?  Usually set up by some long gone former employee…..

    • @AmyMccTobin I guess people think their bosses aren’t watching/paying attention? I’d say a majority are not. But it’s still not smart practice.

  • burgessct

    @ginidietrich ni – here is a link to 217 corporate social network/policies/guides curated by the estimable Chris Boudreaux ( @cboudreaux ) which I have found as a valuable resource to see what others have used.  (Social Media Policies: )
    Your 14 are excellent – as the most important point in my view is that your employees/colleagues should know what is expected of them, other wise you should have no expectation that they will make the desired decision based on your given strategy (which is different than saying they will be dumb).  It is always good to have all with a hand on the oar to be moving in the same direction.
    Nice piece,

    • @burgessct  @cboudreaux Thanks! That’s what I have linked in the blog post. I LOVE that aggregation of social media policies. It’s been very, very helpful.

  • Pingback: Tech News Round Up ~ What’s Happening in Social Media? {10/29/12} | SOHO Tech Training()

  • @ginidietrich , it’s like you were reading my mind. I was going to ask the good folks of the SpinSucks community for some social media policy suggestions TODAY, and here it is, I didn’t even have to beg or grovel. Do I owe you anything?

    • @barrettrossie Yes, $47. Please and thank you. And thanks for the tip on my typo.

  • Pingback: Marketing Day: October 29, 2012()

  • rdopping

    Publicly berating the company you work for. Now THERE’s a great idea. Another candidate for The Darwin Awards?
    This post comes at a great time as a friend (and the competition and not @barrettrossie ) asked me about my firm’s social media policy and now I don’t really need to share ours. The SMG link is a great resource. Thhhhhhanks…..

    • @rdopping  Oh good! Yes, share that directory link. Lots of goodies in there.

  • I always suggest that any social media policy should be clear on the fact that your have consequences and spell out (if possible) what they may be.

    • @MarcSnyder Yes! Totally agree! Otherwise you have no legal leg to stand on if something happens.

  • jennwhinnem

    Hey Gini,
    Thanks for providing the ingredients of a good social media policy. Having undergone this exercise myself last year, I wanted to share some of my org’s experience.
    I wanted to encourage everyone at my org to use social media as a part of their work. The first draft of our policy (written by our then-consultant) contained these ingredients but came off as punitive. No disrespect to the consultant – he was just following orders, so to speak! He and I worked together to add language to empower employees to share their expertise and engage in ongoing online conversations.
    [What’s interesting is that our current social media consultant (the other one took a full-time job, boo on him!) thinks that it’s not encouraging enough.]
    We had our legal counsel review our policy. Minimal changes were suggested.  Legal compared it to the Red Cross policy (which, last I checked, you can find on Mashable)! I guess that’s the standard in nonprofit.
    I share this because it can feel like the social media policy can be so CYA that orgs can miss out on the opportunity to encourage staff to join the online community they’re so eager to create. – That is, assuming that’s what you want to do.

    • @jennwhinnem You mean, “Don’t be stupid” isn’t empowering??

      • jennwhinnem

        @ginidietrich  I had advocated for stealing from Zappos (“Be smart”) but philanthropy being philanthropy, that was a no-go.

  • Pingback: The Fourth Wave of Social Media()

  • Pingback: 6 steps to publishing a blog post about your internship experience | alicieinwonderland()

  • Pingback: CYA: The Importance of Having a Social Media Policy | Rethinking Being Social()

  • Juliwilson789

    This is
    a smart blog. I mean it you have so much knowledge about this issue and so
    much passion.

  • lorenjett

    what about making
    it unobtrusive? also it would be nice to have rubyjs files automatically
    included in the view if the name is the same.

  • philipshaun

    very good post with informative information. I really appreciate the fact
    that you approach these topics from a stand point of knowledge and
    information. This is the first time, I visited at your site and became your
    fan. You are bookmarked. Please keep on posting.