Guidance on Social Media Policies for External Audiences

20 Dec, 2012

Communications & Digital Advocacy

Guidance on Social Media Policies for External Audiences

December 2012

To help guide employees’ use of social media and provide them with guidelines for engagement, companies should create social media policies. Social media policies always, and should differ, based on an organization’s culture and industry. There are some best practices that most organizations adhere to in some form which are outlined below. Included, you’ll find the actual language that some organizations use within their policies to provide examples.

  1. Employees speak for themselves and not their employer – Ford’s social media guidelines

Make it clear that the views expressed are yours. Include the following notice somewhere in every social media profile you maintain: ‘I work at Ford, but this is my own opinion and is not the opinion of Ford Motor Company.’

  1. Be transparent about who you are at all times – Policies always include something about transparency. Nobody wants to be accused of misrepresenting themselves. Honesty and trust are keys to being taken seriously in social media, and if you don’t acknowledge who you work for, you risk losing both. Most policies say something along the lines of the below, from Intel:Be transparent. Your honesty—or dishonesty—will be quickly noticed in the social media environment. If you are blogging about your work at Intel, use your real name, identify that you work for Intel, and be clear about your role. If you have a vested interest in something you are discussing, be the first to point it out. Transparency is about your identity and relationship to Intel. You still need to keep confidentiality around proprietary information and content.
  2. Don’t comment on confidential matters – Policies include something about not sharing proprietary information or the personal information of colleagues or customers.  From Duke Energy’s policy:

“Never publicly disclose, discuss or comment upon Duke Energy’s confidential or proprietary information, non-public information regarding the financial performance of the company or the personal information of Duke Energy’s employees or customers.”  If you’re not sure, don’t guess – usually there’s a portion of the policy that encourages people to ask a manager or someone specific who oversees social media if they have questions.

  1. Be courteous – Online communication, more so than one-on-one communication can lend itself to personal attacks, vulgarity and otherwise rude behavior. A general axiom to follow: Would I want that on the front page of the Washington Post?

From VanCity:
I will always be respectful and will never say something online that I wouldn’t say in front of my grandma. I agree that profanity and hateful language is never appropriate.

  1. Fix mistakes – If you make a mistake, admit it and be up front about it. The online world is quite forgiving if you admit mistakes gracefully. From IBM:

Be the first to respond to your own mistakes. If you make an error, be up front about your mistake and correct it quickly, as this can help to restore trust. If you choose to modify content that was previously posted, such as editing a blog post, make it clear that you have done so.

  1. Only speak on matters that you’re qualified to discuss –The below policy is from Dell:

Be Responsible
Make sure you’re engaging in Social Media conversations the right way. If you aren’t an authority on a subject, send someone to the expert rather than responding yourself. Don’t speak on behalf of Dell if you aren’t giving an official Dell response, and be sure your audience knows the difference. If you see something being shared related to Dell on a Social Media platform that shouldn’t be happening, immediately inform the Social Media and Communities team, your manager, Ethics & Compliance or some other appropriate contact.

  1. Think Twice but Post Once: Most policies reinforce that once something is posted online, it is there for posterity. Nothing is truly deleted from the Internet; if you are concerned that something you’re posting could be inappropriate, ask. From Intel’s policy:

“If it gives you pause, pause. If you’re about to publish something that makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable, don’t shrug it off and hit ‘send.’ Take a minute to review these guidelines and try to figure out what’s bothering you, then fix it. If you’re still unsure, you might want to discuss it with your manager or legal representative. Ultimately, what you publish is yours—as is the responsibility. So be sure.”