5 Tips for Crafting a Good Social Media Policy

Once upon a time I was a staunch opponent of social media policies. The last thing we need, I felt, is for the lawyers to get involved. But to truly scale up social media efforts in an organization, you need to get the practice out of the skunkworks. That takes the buy-in of a range of stakeholders, and it takes training and education of people throughout the organization.

The process of developing a social media policy can be a great way to begin that education. Now I don’t just promote social media policies, I help organizations to create them.

If you are ready to begin utilizing social networking media in your workplace, here, based on what I have learned so far, are 5 tips to guide you when you craft a social media policy:

  1. Start your policy with a clear declaration of your organization’s overall approval of social media and social networking. Clear up any misconceptions and make sure supervisors know that employees are allowed to use social media within the guidelines set out in your policy. Particularly if you are reversing previous bans, or settling differences in policy across different parts of your organization, it is essential that your message be heard loud and clear. See how the Department of Defense led the issuance of its new policy recently with a clear statement of the value they saw in social media.
  2. Balance the legal requirements with the opportunity to teach and model good social media practices. A social media policy has to address copyright, privacy, record retention and other legal issues, but it won’t work if it is just a big fat book of NO. Potential dangers of using social media are risks inherent to any communication. Show employees how to behave appropriately online and you will reduce the risks of disaster.
  3. Cover broad, basic principles that apply to all social media engagement. Some of the most important good practices to follow, such as being transparent about your identity and not faking being someone you aren’t, are true across all social media networks. Help your employees learn to be good social citizens in general, and they’ll do a better job no matter which tool they are using.
  4. Back up those basic principles with concrete guidelines and advice on using specific social media tools and services. Each social media network has distinct ideosyncracies, lingo, and culture. Guidelines for each particular social media network shorten the learning curve and translate your organization’s legal requirements for each social media tool. Mass.gov’s toolkits for blogging, Twitter (and soon, Youtube) are a great example.
  5. Make your policy human-readable. You want your social media policy to have impact, to engender conversation, and to be something employees can learn from. A certain amount of legalese is probably unavoidable, but take care to explain the legalese in plain English. Provide concrete examples to show what is and isn’t allowed. Be transparent about why the rules are necessary and trust in your employees ability to understand. Look at Flickr’s fabulous Community Guidelines and see how they are written for real people.

I am sure there are other good tips; these are the ones I have found most useful. What are yours? I hope you’ll share in the comments.

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9 Responses to 5 Tips for Crafting a Good Social Media Policy
  1. Getting to Yes | John McCrory
    March 9, 2010 | 5:11 pm

    […] Develop a social media policy. Balance legal requirements with the opportunity you have to educate your employees how to do social media well. […]

  2. Ari HerzogNo Gravatar
    March 10, 2010 | 4:53 pm

    Good points, but I think it's imperative that writing a policy about social media be participative by all employees and stakeholders who currently engage in that company's social media initiatives. For instance, don't have the same people who write a corporate mission statement write the social media policy, but to be cliche, engage your employees in the process so it's a team effort everyone is happy with.

    Also, see http://www.interactiveinsightsgroup.com/blog1/soc… for many such policies.

    • johnmccroryNo Gravatar
      March 10, 2010 | 5:32 pm

      Great point, Ari. It's really important to practice what we preach about engagement every step of the way. Thanks for contributing that link to the Social Media Policies Superlist, too: Lots of good stuff there.

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