When a client asked me last week, the 10th person this year, if I could help them draft a social media policy for their company, I was very surprised. Not because she is another client who wanted a policy, but because her company only had 3 employees. Aren't expectations for conduct and communications easy to explain in a company that small?

My answer to her came in the form of the list attached (links to the right) and a version of the explanation below.

I have helped larger companies draft and customize social media policies before and have often felt something like this simple list might be the best solution. But when a communications crisis happens, companies want evidence that they made their best efforts to protect themselves and they often reach for what they know: a legal document and a version for the employee handbook.

Culture Spreads The Policy

The culture in any business communicates any given policy. Small businesses have an advantage because the culture is often more intimate and the expectations and parameters better understood through the close familiarity of its members.

But larger businesses who don't have that advantage are not necessarily better off relying on a method other than culture. By making the expectations accessible, simple, and easy to explain, big businesses and small make it a lot more likely that their policies will be followed and culturally supported. While legal documents may provide protection in a crisis, an understood policy might prevent one.

For this reason, I created such a simple, common sense, social media policy and saved it in formats for download that you can print and staple to a common wall in the office, if necessary. I wanted it to be readable by most in under 30 seconds and read repeatedly by the keeners. If at least a few people in an organization know it well, it might spread and become part of the culture.

Why These 10 Points?

I would have made it 4 points if I could, but when I finished the 10 and re-read it looking for redundancies, I couldn't pick one to take out. Here's why each point is included:

1. Be kind.

Is there any more important civic duty than this? In life and in business. If your employees find it difficult to be kind to other people, do you really want them on your team? And when it comes to a crisis, kindness can be easily identified and appreciated.

2. You are a person first, an employee second.

This is a hard one for many business leaders to agree to but I feel it is absolutely necessary. People don't pay attention to brands the way they pay attention to people so if you don't let your people be themselves online, who is going to pay attention to anything your brand has to say? Encourage your people to be themselves and to talk about the things that get themselves charged up about their company and their jobs, naturally.

3. Spend most of your time listening and liking, not posting.

I might have made this shorter by just simply saying: LISTEN. But there's a bit more that needs to be said, the most important being "stop worrying about what to post". Liking what other people do and simply paying attention to people who matter to the company is the basic fabric that keeps you on people's minds and thinking positively about your company. And it takes pressure off people who might think they need to be posting and commenting heavily to show their worth on these channels.

4. Expectations for professional conduct are the same online as offline.

This is my favourite cover-all statement. Maybe it should have been the first or the last on the list. To me, it basically undermines the thinking that expectations of my conduct are different on social media because those are my personal accounts and my personal time. What people forget is that, before social media, questionable conduct was still questionable, it just wasn't often recorded and shared. It is now. [Tweet this]

5. Do not embarrass or disparage the company.

The fear of what employees might say keeps corporate networks locked down even when freeing them could be so beneficial to the business. Many companies, if they knew this one rule would be followed perfectly, might open the floodgates for social media use in the workplace right now...

6. Do not share private or confidential information.

...for others, this is the rule that matters the most to them. Especially government. In many cases, it's not even the intentional sharing of private or confidential information that they fear, it's the accidental sharing. And that is what leads us to point #7...

7. Understand your privacy settings but know that any post can accidentally become public.

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Accidents happen but people need to be responsible for knowing what happens to the information they share. A healthy fear of sharing something inappropriate isn't all bad. It's that same fear that locks down our mouths from asking women "when they're due" or a gentleman where he got his toupée. And in most organizations, sharing confidential information is grounds for termination and "oops" doesn't usually count as an excuse or a remedy.

8. Pay attention to and support your colleagues’ posts.

Businesses who use social media to good effect build communities around their brands. So why would anyone want to be part of your community if you aren't a community yourselves? Your team needs to be at the centre of your brand community; talking to each other, liking each other's content, and demonstrating the things you share in common. The thinking could be that, if you ignore a co-worker you'll probably ignore me, too, if I follow your posts. Just be people who know and like each other, just as you do in the offline world.

9. Be mindful of the reputation you are creating.

For you and your company. The things you share, say, and even like all reflect on the reputation you build. It's important to consider how online activities can be an influence and whether or not that influence is desirable. Think before you share.


10. Be yourself.

Being an authentic person who isn't just a mouthpiece for a company is so important that I couldn't possibly take it off the list. Influencers are essential for businesses to grow their brands and sales using social media. In the early days especially, employees are the most readily available people you have to grow into influencers. By not letting them be themselves, their sword is dull and their voice silenced.

Attach Your Strategy

Another last suggestion I have is to share your social engagement strategy, or an "express" version of it, with the whole crew. If all employees know what the desired outcomes are and how they'll be measured, that transparency alone can be very engaging and they can each do their small part to support it. Keeping this information in a silo is really a lost opportunity.

Turn this stuff into a legal document if you need to but make sure the policy is this easy to communicate or people won't be mindful of it.

Does your company have a social media policy? A social engagement strategy?