Why “Take your Social Media policy to the next level” should be on your company’s 2015 resolutions list

January 9, 2015

social-media-bandwagon-300x242The Wall Street Journal recently released its take on the Best and Worst of 2014 Marketing. The short “worst list” included DiGiorno’s use of the hashtag #WhyIStayed to sell oven baked pizza when the hashtag was linked on Twitter at the time to stories of domestic violence victims and also Best Buy’s promoted Tweet that aligned itself with Serial, a podcast about the nonfiction murder of a high school student.

For better or worse, a single Tweet by a corporate Social Media account can be a big deal. Social Media marketing will always involve both luck, risk, and – often on-the-spot — judgment. The fact that two of the WSJ’s “worst” marketing efforts involved misguided Tweets highlights the importance of employers creating and maintaining Social Media policies that not only cover the legal compliance pieces but also consider company interests in brand protection, balanced with the freedom for account managers to react quickly rather than allow an opportunity to pass on by.

When creating or updating a Social Media policy, there are three key questions that all companies should ask to ensure that there’s an articulated and shared company “vision” for Social Media that’s not limited exclusively to hindsight:

What’s your appetite for risk? There’s a happy medium between “do no harm” and “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” When a company does more than share press releases or company news updates on its account, there will be some risk that the person running the account does something that could cause harm to the reputation of the business. Restricting anything that could be perceived as offensive, however, also hampers the ability for a Social Media account manager to seize the moment with a clever comment. Every company needs to decide its risk tolerance and communicate the same to those running the accounts to set some general ground rules about how far the company wants to push the envelope — and what that even means in a given industry. Law firms, for example, won’t normally want to be as aggressive in taking chances with content as companies in other industries may.

Whose skin is in the game? The stakes are too high given the public nature of social media to not have a system of checks and balances around content and Social Media use for company accounts. Prospective consumers or clients may not follow your accounts, but if they click on the company’s account and see the content, they’ll get what they assume to be a snapshot of content that reflects the company’s positions and values. Liability should be shared for company accounts with a two-tiered level of oversight and accountability that includes at least sporadic monitoring and dialogue around Social Media. The ultimate Social Media decision maker should not be the college intern that helped you set up the Instagram account and whose work goes unchecked.

Can I get a roll call? Every company should know what accounts it has active (or opened or abandoned). This includes any accounts opened by, on behalf of, or for the benefit of the company. This requires some definition around the “yours, mine and ours” of Social Media. To the extent a company has individual employees active on accounts in their professional capacity – establishing thought leadership and gravitating toward the “soft sell” where individuals, not the company, are front and center — there needs to be definition around whether these accounts are intended to benefit the employer, as well as who owns the account (is it the property of the employer or the employee?).

It’s much easier to work out account ownership details – namely, who keeps the account in the event that the employee leaves the company — on the front end than when the employee is out the door. Clarity around which Social Media accounts are “work” accounts is critical also in mitigating legal risks such as wage and hour violations for use by non-exempt hourly employees for “working” on Social Media during off hours and complaints around perceived infringement on “personal” accounts, as states are starting to pass laws restricting employers from asking for or about personal Social Media account information.

Boilerplate Social Media policies just won’t cut it. Companies need to add their own spin to “off the shelf” Social Media policies that cover certain legal bases to also reflect the Social Media vision and the values of the company.