The Ultimate 2013 Social Media Policy for Small Businesses

So it’s 2013, and you’ve finally decided to jump on the social media bandwagon. Or maybe you already have some employees working your social media swagger. Either way, if you don’t have a Social Media Policy in place, you could be setting yourself up for unexpected disaster.

And that’s not said under the guise of fear mongering. For the most part, most businesses will not face a lot of negativity in the social sphere (which might be due in part to the fact that most business pages in social media sites have a vacant, comatose feel or are supremely under-utilized in the way of regular content). But, for those who wish to grab this bull’s horns and maintain an active online presence, let’s talk about the pros and cons of social media-dom.


Potential Benefits of Social Media

  • Increased online presence
  • Opportunity to attract new leads
  • Enhances personality of your business
  • Lets customers easily find you
  • Shows your strengths as a business
  • Allows you to communicate with a larger audience

Potential Negatives of Social Media

  • Negative customer feedback
  • Angry/upset customers have open ticket on you
  • Employees’ personal posts relate to your business
  • Poor use of grammar/spelling lead to a negative brand perception
  • Lack of host engagement leaves visitors dissatisfied

The lists could go on, but these are some of the fundamental pros and cons of social media usage. Most people can get the fun stuff just fine, but the social sphere opens you to a much larger audience, with potential for much more criticism. If you want to maintain a positive relationship with your customers, it is highly beneficial to create and  implement a social media policy (especially for you small businesses – you likely can’t afford to lose many, nay, any customers).

It’s important to remember that when you are researching social media policy guidelines that much of what is available is designed for large corporate entities. That’s all well and good, and a lot of information can be gleamed (IBM, for example, has published their social media guidelines publicly for anyone to read. It’s a great policy, though rather long), but remember to use the policy as yet another measure to help promote the internal culture of your organization, no matter how big or small it is (see the end of this post for a link to many corporate examples).

Social Media Policy

Your Social Media Policy should work to highlight the positives while mitigating/negating the negatives. When crafting a policy, here are a few important things to consider:

  1. Introduce the purpose of social media. As the leader, it is of utmost importance for you to set the tone for your social media outreach. You should have by this point developed an understanding of why you want to push out socially. Whether it’s to generate new leads, increase sales, drive traffic to your website, increase conversions or simply create an online community to engage with your customers more frequently and readily, your intentions must be clearly outlined. Do so and the  rest of the policy will unfold more smoothly.
  2. Keep it internal. Unless you have clear consent from a client, don’t post about your clients. First, it’s a matter of respect for your professional relationship – boundaries have been set and you don’t want to breach any trust. Second, your professional social profiles don’t need to be seen promoting your clients. That’s lazy marketing.
  3. Define the channels. The policy should have details of which social media platforms your company plans on utilizing, as well as access to usernames and passwords for those who will be posting. It might behoove you, also, to define a method for requesting/starting new social profiles. This could save some headaches down the road.
  4. Know your role. After you define the channels, you need to define who will be posting, and to which platforms. Knowing who is posting, and
  5. Define language. Give definite working lists of dos and don’ts including phrases, words, grammar and punctuation. Assume the least here – people’s personal social media profiles are often rife with abbreviations, misspellings and a tone of voice that is out of character with your business.
  6. Define when.  This comes in two parts. First, define which days, and after later review, which hour to post to each of the platforms you plan on using. This helps you keep track of posts and your employees’ writing styles and maintain posting continuity. Second, identify, very clearly, how much time you expect to be spent on social media sites and how often it should be part of the employee’s duties.
  7. Be responsible for what you write. It sounds simple enough, but too often too many people think that because they are behind the guise of the organization, or that you are told to be expressive, that those are excuses for recusing themselves of any culpability or responsibility for inappropriate or poor-taste content. Grow up. Act like an adult.
  8. Be authentic. Include your name and, when appropriate, your company name and your title. Consumers buy from people that they know and trust, so let people know who you are.Negative social media feedback
  9. Consider the audience. When you’re out in the blogosphere or Twitterverse or other social media channels, remember that your readers include current clients, potential clients, as well as current/past/future employees. Consider that before you publish and make sure you aren’t alienating any of those groups.
  10. Bring (and deliver) value. There are some 200 million blogs in the world. The last thing anybody needs is a me-too approach. Nobody cares if  you repeat what a thousand people before you have said. In fact, it might likely damage your authoritative reputation. Provide your audience with value, and reap the benefits of trust building and evangelism.
  11. Best practice. Monitoring social media channels can be a great way to address customer service issues. But just because you’re posting as the business doesn’t mean customers won’t get noticeably upset. Mark down in your guidelines (copy from your employee manual if necessary) how to deal with upset or angry customers in the social sphere.
  12. Hold them accountable. In addition to employees owning the responsibility of what they write, so too should you hold them accountable. If you don’t, one post faux pas will build into two, and then more – increasing in complexity and gravity each time. It sounds slippery slope-ish, but when your public image is at stake, it suddenly becomes easier to enforce rules that are designed to protect you.
  13. Continue learning. Offering continuing training on new features, best practices, language and grammar , and industry trends will keep you in the know about how social media is affecting your business, but it will also help your employees be the most effective when they take the reins, er, keyboard.

Many business leaders I’ve worked with have chosen to keep the policy relatively short (one to two pages) because, as one CEO told me, “I want to make sure it’ll get read.” The length doesn’t necessarily matter, just as long as you make sure to go over all the potential issues – which can be hard to realize by yourself, so make sure to call on your senior staff to help you identify potential issues. A simple Google search will yield some corporate, fairly intensive real-world examples of social media policies, if you’re interested in seeing how some large corporations approach the social media policy.

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