Looking at how Social Media has grown over the last couple of years with millions of users joining and getting active, it’s no surprise that brands have got on to the Social Media bandwagon too. After all, going where your consumers and prospects are makes good business sense.
Most brands have followed the natural path of Social Media adoption. Which starts with creating a basic presence on a few Social Media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube being the most popular), and often hiring an intern to create and manage their presence. Once they see traction (read: fan and followers coming in), an outside agency is usually retained, and more serious use of Social Media begins. This includes undertaking Online Reputation Management, running Social Media campaigns, creating content streams for the various platforms, and looking to create brand influence through bloggers and other online influencers.
Brands may soon find consumers gravitating to their Social Media pages, and using them as the default contact mechanism with the brand. And also the place to share their views about the brand, and how good or bad it is. Very soon, a brand realizes that there is a lot of chatter out there – about the brand, and it’s not all controlled or managed by the brand. But a lot of it is user generated, and also includes the brand’s own internal stakeholders (employees, partners), who add to the brand story, usually in their personal capacity as participants in the Social media space, and often on their own social media pages.
This avalanche of brand-related online content that the brand can do little to control or influence, makes most brands panic. And as a reaction to this panic, they usually decide to create a Social Media Policy – so that they can determine and mandate what can be said and not said, who and say it, what the hierarchy of online participation is within the organization, as well as the roles and responsibilities of various internal stakeholders in the creation and management of the brand’s social media presence.
Before you read further, let me clarify that I am not going to provide a step-by-step How To recipe to creating a Social Media Policy here. There are enough of them available at the click of a search query on Google!
I will instead touch upon a few aspects that are critical for a brand or a company to keep in mind when it goes about developing a Social Media policy and that are often overlooked in the rush to create a policy.
- Don’t call it a Social Media Policy, but call it ‘Social Media Guidelines’. A ‘policy’ reminds one of ‘policing’ and no one likes to be policed.
- Remember ‘Social Media’ has ‘Social’ in it, and so the way it is written needs to be social too – it should invite and encourage people to participate, rather than give them reasons to stay away. You can never have enough eyes and ears out there in Social Media and what better than the eyes and ears of your own people?
- The best Social media guidelines empower and enable people to use Social Media effectively, rather than lay out restrictions of what is not allowed. Simply showing people the power of what Social media can do in a positive manner will get them to follow it, rather than having strictures that will make them worry and be wary of using Social Media in the first place.
- Write the guidelines in English, not legalese.
- Remember Social media guidelines are not about a show of authority, but a sharing of responsibility with your own people. Treat them as you would your own family, they are after all family.
- Co-opt internal stakeholders (ideally those who active in Social Media themselves) to help in the development of the guidelines, rather than leave it to people who often are not users of Social Media. After all, you would ask a chef, not a plumber for a recipe for biryani, right?
- Be creative and focus on offering rewards for the appropriate use of Social media, rather than simply laying down penalties for the inappropriate use.
- Provide easy check posts people can go to for clarifications on what’s appropriate. Having ‘Peer Social champions’ within teams and departments can help give the guidelines a recognisable face, which is likely to encourage people to reach out to them.
- One size may not fit all. Tailor your guidelines to bring out the differences in how different internal stakeholders ought to use Social media. This will help address issues of client confidentiality and legal requirements that may concern some people and not the others.
- Review and revise…review and revise… the Social Media guidelines every 3-6 months. Seeing the rapid changes in the Social media space, it’s important to realize that Social Media guidelines cannot be cast in stone. To be relevant, they need to be current, and constantly evolving.
Think of your Social Media Guidelines as a step towards becoming a more Social business – not just a business that present or active on Social Media, but one that is more open, real, transparent, accessible, and tuned in and responsive to your stakeholders – both internal and external.
Ashok is Global Head, Digital Marketing at Infosys. He is also the founder and author of ‘The Future of Digital for Brands’, a highly regarded global online community of over 3000 marketers spanning 65+ countries. You are welcome to join the conversation around The Future of Digital for Brands http://linkd.in/qfXBrj. He is also an active blogger, speaker and trainer on topics related to Marketing and Brands, and Digital and Social Media, and can be found tweeting at @ashoklalla.
The article first appeared on Campaign Asia