Social Media Policies: The Good, The Bad & The Non-Existent

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As a social media researcher I have encountered all types of organisational social media policies. This post will lead you through the good, the bad and the non-existent, plus provide some tips on developing, (refining or evaluating) the social media policy for your organisation. 

The Good

One of the best social media policies that I have seen came from a large organisation that was extremely proactive and innovative in developing its social media guidelines and policies for staff. This organisation had written its full policy in accordance with its organisational requirements, but thoroughly understood its workforce’s tendency to experience TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read). To ensure that staff got the message in relation to what was required of them in terms of social media conduct, it pulled out the main points and developed an animated video of around two minutes in length, distributed it through its internal communication channels, while also making it publicly available on You-Tube. It used social media to inform staff about social media, which was easily one of the most innovative (and relevant) ways to get its policy and guidelines across.

The Bad

Under Construction

Some organisations technically do not have a policy in place, but have one in various stages of development. Policy development usually involves consulting with the many department heads within an organisation, a laborious but necessary process in order for the policy to capture all of the differing challenges and requirements of each department. While it is important to be thorough, trying to preempt every possible scenario may significantly delay a formal policy being implemented, therefore it is important to strike a balance.

However, some of the best social media policies are continually being adapted to remain current and relevant to the needs of organisational growth and the ever-changing nature of social media. The difference is that a policy exists, has been implemented, and is refined over time. It’s better to work with something than nothing.

The Knee-Jerk Policy

Some organisations have a social media policy that was created as a knee-jerk reaction, because everyone else apparently has one. These are the types of policies that are created directly from a template, to tick a box, and are never updated again or customised to suit the specific characteristics of the organisation. Policies of this nature often only cover guidelines for staff use of social media during working hours and nothing about how employees should represent their organisation online, let alone guidelines for those within the organisation that are in charge of social media.

The Non-Existent

Some smaller organisations do not see the need to have a social media policy instead, believing that with such small staff numbers, common sense will prevail. The funny thing about common sense is that it is not always that common. It’s also very difficult to hold an employee to account for social media misconduct when there isn’t any formal documentation to define what misconduct is. Often policies are developed after an incident to prevent it from happening again. This may be an acceptable approach if being reactive is a preferred practice, but it’s definitely not recommended.

Social Media Policies – Enforcing them can be tricky

While some organisations are making great gains in their social media policy development and communication to employees, they can also experience some challenges. In particular, larger organisations can find it extremely tricky to enforce social media policies. Unauthorised social media profiles (e.g. Facebook pages) for different areas of an organisation are usually not discovered until something goes wrong, and once the issue is rectified and senior management is notified, the organisation can often be too under-resourced to deem it a priority, and nothing changes in terms of governance.

This knowledge raises four main questions that any organisation should ask before developing a social media policy:

  1. Does this policy cover all relevant aspects of social media conduct by employees within your organisation?
  2. How can you acquire the resources, the processes and the commitment from senior management to uphold this policy if it is breached?
  3. What is the best way of communicating this to internal stakeholders?
  4. How often will you update this policy to ensure that it stays relevant and current to your organisation and to the evolution of social media technologies?

Answering these questions honestly will assist in developing, assessing or amending a social media policy so that it remains a relevant and understandable framework for those working within your organisation.

How does your organisation’s social media policy stack up?

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