WE’RE IN A WORD-OF-MOUTH ECONOMY, where content moves faster than green grass through a goose! (I used to looove it when my grandpa Varnum used that expression!)
One dainty, delicate little Tweet can ruthlessly race across humanity and burn down your brand. And, in most cases, there would be nothing you could do to stop its unfettered path of destruction.
Sobering, I know, but true.
That’s why every business operating on planet Earth in 2012 must have a social media policy in place so that everyone understands the power and responsibility that comes with engaging in social media. Everyone in your organization must read and acknowledge a social media policy, lest it deteriorate into a bonafide bacchanalia of chaos.
Our agency worked extensively with our legal team (to the tune of over $1,200)–to craft what I will venture to say is the finest, most nuanced Social Media Policy template that has ever existed! And, I want you to have it. For free. (I ask nothing in return, except perhaps an elegant little plug for my new book since proceeds from the sale of every copy goes to CARE. The book is good for business, good for our world! Ok, enough shameless promotion. Let’s get to this.)
Be a hero at your company. Print this out and bring it to your boss or HR department and let them know how important it is to put into place. I created a tidy PDF version just for you. Even if your organization is not going to put a social policy in place (yet!), reading this over will help you, as an individual employee, understand the serious ramifications of engaging in social media, to help you do better work–and possibly protect your job!
[Your Company Here] Social Media Policy
- Employee Guidelines -
With over one billion people taking part, social media is the fastest-growing form of communication in history—and the #1 online activity. These platforms (e.g. LinkedIN, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs) allow messages to spread far, fast and wide—and in a trust-based manner. It is simply word-of-mouth marketing moving orders-of-magnitude faster than ever before. You could say it’s simply “old school business practices” in a “new media.
[Your Company] is engaging in social media to expand our reach, deepen member and employee engagement, facilitate global communication and remain relevant by capitalizing on the positive benefits this enormous opportunity provides.
You have a voice and something valuable to say. A primary driver for [Your Company] engaging in social media is that we want to empower our organization by empowering our people. Social media amplifies your voice—and your power. As they say, “with power comes responsibility.” Our Social Media Policy is in place simply to protect [Your Company]—and our people.
Our Social Media Policy could be summarized in one sentence: “Be prudent and use common sense.” On March 10, 2011, The Library of Congress reported that “all Tweets will be preserved for eternity.” That goes for blog posts as well. Everything you contribute online remains on record forever—and everything you do, even on a personal basis, reflects on [Your Company] as a brand and an organization. We don’t want to sound overly-dramatic here, but one errant post can inflict terrible damage on the [Your Company] brand, as a post can race across the Web with blinding speed.
This policy is in place to protect you as well as [Your Company]. Please take the time to review, and fully understand, these policies.
Before you publish anything online, ask yourself:
- “Would this public expression impair my ability to work with my colleagues on a friendly basis?”
- “Would it give a leg up to our competition?”
- “Would it make my co-workers, partners or customers uncomfortable?”
- “Could it, in any way, erode the valuable brand equity of [Your Company]?”
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, then kindly forego the post. Remember: your social communities, and the world at large, may enjoy the post, but you never know where comments or posts may be shared. In other words, you could, for example, be two-degrees separated from shareholders, media or [Your Company] partners.
While we encourage open communication both internally and externally in all forms, here at [Your Company], we expect and insist that such communication does not substantively demean our environment. This means that constructive criticism—both privately and publicly—is welcome, but harsh or continuous disparagement is frowned upon.
If you comment on any aspect of the company’s business or any policy issue in which the company is involved and in which you have responsibility, you must clearly identify yourself as a [Your Company] employee in your postings or blog site(s) and include a disclaimer that the views are your own and not those of [Your Company]. Each blog post shall contain the following disclaimer: “The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of [Your Company].” Your Internet postings should reflect your personal point of view, not necessarily the point of view of [Your Company]. Because you are legally responsible for your postings, you may be subject to liability if your posts are found defamatory, harassing, or in violation of any other applicable law. You may also be liable if you make postings, which include confidential or copyrighted information (music, videos, text, etc.) belonging to third parties. All of the above mentioned postings are prohibited under this policy.
You may not disclose any sensitive, proprietary, confidential, or financial information about the organization. This includes revenues, profits, forecasts, and other financial information, any confidential information related to specific products, product lines, customers, partners, etc. Posts should not speculate on [Your Company]’s future plans or business prospects.
You may not post any material that is obscene, defamatory, profane, libelous, threatening, harassing, abusive, hateful or embarrassing to another person or any other person or entity. This includes, but is not limited to, comments regarding our employees, partners and competitors. You may not personally attack fellow employees, authors, customers, vendors, or shareholders.
Copyrights and Trademarks
Respect copyright and fair use laws. When citing the work of another person or organization, professional bloggers, like journalists, will use proper attribution as well as a link (if applicable). Trademarks such as logos, slogans and various digital content (art, music, photos, etc.) may require permission from the copyright owner. It is your responsibility to seek that permission if you intend to use any such trademarked content.
Social media is about individual participation—and each piece of content you publish, to the smallest most benign Tweet, can have a powerful, positive impact on [Your Company]’s word-of-mouth marketing and our brand equity. Please keep in mind that you are personally responsible for anything you publish online. Posts should express individual opinions, and not take positions for [Your Company]. You may post about the organization, products and services, employees, partners and industry trends but also about your personal opinions and even the occasional non-work related topics. (Remember to have the disclaimer in a prominent location).
Posts should be factual. Posts should not make comparative statements concerning [Your Company]‘s competitors without prior approval of legal and verification of accuracy from marketing. You should always disclose your employment or association with [Your Company]. (Since you are limited to 140 characters on Twitter, please ensure your title with the company is included in your profile.)
Keep in mind [Your Company]’s voice and core values, which form the bedrock of our brand: [Your Brand Statement/Defining Words Here].
Make Sure Your Management Approves
Social media activities must not interfere with your work or productivity at [Your Company], and your personal activities should take place outside of work. Current management must approve your activities related to [Your Company]’s business.
Protect Confidential Information
You may not use your blog, micro-blog or other social media to disclose [Your Company]’s confidential information. This includes nonpublic financial information such as future revenue, earnings, and other financial forecasts, and anything related to [Your Company]‘s strategy, sales, products, policy, management, operating units, and potential acquisitions, that have not been made public. Protecting the confidential information of our employees, customers, partners, and suppliers is also important. Do not mention them, including The [Your Company]‘s executives, in social media without their permission, and make sure you don’t disclose items such as sensitive personal information of others or details related to [Your Company]’s business with its customers. Third party social media services use servers that are outside of [Your Company]’s control and may pose a security risk. Don’t use these services to conduct internal The [Your Company] business. In addition, you may not publish our competitors’ proprietary or confidential information. You may make observations about competitors’ products and activities if your observations are accurate and based on publicly available information. Take care not to disparage or denigrate competitors.
Refrain from Objectionable or Inflammatory Posts
Do not post anything that is false, misleading, obscene, defamatory, profane, discriminatory, libelous, threatening, harassing, abusive, hateful, or embarrassing to another person or entity. Make sure to respect others’ privacy. Third party Web sites and blogs that you link to must meet our standards of propriety. Be aware that false or defamatory statements or the publication of an individual’s private details could result in legal liability for [Your Company] and you. For this reason, [Your Company] employees with personal blogs that discuss [Your Company]’s business, products, employees, customers, partners, or competitors should include the following disclaimer in a visually prominent place on their blog: “The views expressed on this [blog; Web site] are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of [Your Company].” Similarly, if you appear in a video, you should preface your comments by making it clear that you are not a [Your Company] spokesperson and your opinion doesn’t necessarily reflect [Your Company].
Do Not Post Anonymously
While you are not an official spokesperson, your status as a [Your Company] employee may still be relevant to the subject matter. You should identify yourself as an employee if failing to do so could be misleading to readers or viewers. Employees should not engage in covert advocacy for [Your Company]. Whenever you are blogging about [Your Company]-related topics or providing feedback relevant to [Your Company], identify yourself as a [Your Company] employee.
You must recognize and respect others’ intellectual property rights, including copyrights. While certain limited use of third-party materials (for example, use of a short quotation that you are providing comment on) may not always require approval from the copyright owner, it is still advisable to get the owner’s permission whenever you use third-party materials. Never use more than a short excerpt from someone else’s work, and make sure to credit and, if possible, link to the original source.
Use Video Responsibly
Remember that you may be viewed as endorsing any Web video (whether hosted by YouTube or elsewhere) or other content you link to from your blog or posting, whether created by you, by other [Your Company] employees, or by third parties, and the Social Media Policy applies to this content. Also, recognize that video is an area in which you need to be particularly sensitive to others’ copyright rights. You generally cannot include third party content such as film clips or songs in your video without obtaining the owner’s permission.
Stick to [Your Company] Topics on The [Your Company]-Sponsored Blogs
Blogs that are hosted or run by [Your Company] should focus on topics that are related to [Your Company]’s business. We encourage you to take a position and push our message—in a strong, yet elegant/diplomatic manner. Those are the posts that get shared and foster dialog, which is what we’re after. We must always engage with our critics with civility, as 47% of people online are simply “watching” the conversation and making determinations about [Your Company] brand, and whether or not to do business with us, based on what we say and do. Please remain cognizant of that.
Current Approved List of [Your Company] Social Media Participants
Only the following individuals have been approved to create content within the social media landscape:
If you would like to take part—and we warmly welcome you to do so!—kindly contact [Your HR Department or Social Media Manager here].
You agree that [Your Company] shall not be liable, under any circumstances, for any errors, omissions, loss or damages claimed or incurred due to any of your Internet postings. [Your Company] reserves the right to suspend, modify, or withdraw this Social Media Policy, and you are responsible for regularly reviewing its terms. While [Your Company] has no obligation to monitor your participation in social media activities related to [Your Company]’s business, products, employees, customers, partners, or competitors, we reserve the right to do so. We count on our employees to help ensure that the Social Media Policy is being followed. Please report misconduct (e.g. copyright violations, harassment, misstatements) to [Your HR Department or Social Media Manager here].
Our engagement in social media is in direct alignment with the core values that have built [Your Company] into the respected organization it is today: [Include your company's tagline, mission statement or brand statement here].
We invite you to bring your passion and creativity to the table as we embrace innovation and expand our social media presence to strengthen our organization.
There you have it. Putting a well-crafted social media policy in place will unleash the talents and passions of your people, while protecting your company. Best of both worlds! Now, get cracking.
Eric Harr is the Founder & President of Resonate Social Media, a social media agency in San Francisco. He is the new CBS Social Media Expert. And, he is the author of the new book “The REAL TRUTH About Social Media: 8 Timeless Truths Uncovered & 8 Monumental Myths Revealed” available now on Amazon.com.