Social media services proposal guidelines

Social media guidelines differ from organisation to organisation; one size does not fit all. That said, social media guidelines can general...

Social media guidelines differ from organisation to organisation; one size does not fit all. That said, social media guidelines can generally be described as a set of principles created by an organisation to help employees understand the boundaries and desired dos and don’ts when engaging with social media.

The guidelines typically cover how to engage with social media on behalf of an organisation. They may also provide guidance on the appropriate amount of time to spend on social media sites during work hours, and finally, why it is essential to differentiate a personal social media account from a professional one – organisations should make it clear that posts through personal accounts that are public can be seen and may breach organisational policy if they bring the company into disrepute.

social media services proposal

The Need for Social Media Guidelines

Despite an increase in the use and understanding of social media, many employees are still in need of guidance when it comes to social media engagement. According to a post on the Econsultancy blog in July 2011: ‘8 per cent of companies in the United States have fired an employee for a social media flub, while another 20 per cent have disciplined an employee for social media misbehaviour.

But these well-reported social media mishaps have not jolted all organisations into creating social media guidelines. A recent ICM Research survey shows that only 24% of companies have policies for how employees should use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (June 2011).

Creating guidelines can help organisations to protect their brand online as well as empowering employees to hold conversations and spread the word about an organisation. Guidelines that create ‘freedom within a framework’ (a Coca-Cola phrase and concept it uses for managing its brand) are likely to yield the most positive results as they don’t suffocate employees by procedure.

Too often organisations think about social media policies as a list of restrictions. But having clear guidelines can also help employees understand ways they can use social media to help achieve business goals. For instance, policies should advise employees how they can comment on blogs or social networks to boost brand awareness and drive traffic to the company’s site,’ comments Chris Boudreaux, a senior vice president at New York-based social-media consulting firm Converseon.

Social Media Guidelines Should not Exist in Isolation

Adding social media clauses into email and internet policies, confidentiality agreements or the company handbook may suffice in certain organisations as long as these policies are accessible and provide clarity on the topic.

The more clarification organisations can provide and communicate around the dos and don’ts of social media, the more chance there is of employees helping to build the brand online rather than bringing the company into disrepute.

If guidelines are created separately, it is also important that they are in line (and do not conflict) with other policies that different departments may have created.

How to Get Started

There are two schools of thought for creating social media guidelines. Some organisations believe guidelines should evolve over time and be drafted as and when social media opportunities and risks present themselves. Other organisations establish clear guidelines from the offset to ensure employees are familiar with the boundaries and the desired dos and don’ts from the beginning.

Most organisations opt for the latter approach. It’s the safest option. The reactive approach can leave an organisation exposed and put its reputation at risk. At worst, employees could intentionally or unintentionally cause a crisis by posting inappropriate comments online or revealing competitive intelligence. Without guidelines from the offset, employees may convey different messages or communicate in a different tone, which could potentially confuse its audience and not present one company voice.

Deciding what to include in a set of social media guidelines and how much detail to go into can be one of the biggest challenges. Different organisations have different cultures, levels of desired participation, different opinions on conflict resolution and different opinions on the overall value of social media.

Here are a few areas to consider when creating social media guidelines for an organisation:

1. Set the expectations of employees. Define why an organisation is using social media and detail how employees can get involved.

2. Remind employees to remain professional. Recap on employer and employee agreements and respectfully ask employees to remain professional when engaging in social media activity. It is also useful to remind social media enthusiasts that context matters. If they are not engaging with social media on behalf of an organisation, they should state ‘views are my own’ on their social media profiles and should only visit these sites when not actively involved in company business – the amount of time allocated to personal browsing on social media sites is at the discretion of each organisation.

3. Remember to include detail where appropriate. In some cases, confusion arises because employees interpret guidelines in different ways. Some industries and organisations will benefit from providing specific advice on the type of profile pictures that are acceptable or how to respond appropriately to customers or journalists who contact employees directly.

4. Highlight types of social media activity that need approval. Some organisations require all social media activity to be supervised and activity to be approved and recorded. If this applies, then it will involve work outlining the approval process. For example, Profile, Background or Wall information that is usually considered ‘advertisement copy’ may have to be pre-approved. But real-time discussions via Facebook or Twitter may not require approval as long as activities on these sites comply with the organisational social media guidelines.

5. Obtain buy-in from different departments and the senior team. In many organisations social media activity cuts across different departments. These different departments should be included in the process to ensure the policy resonates throughout the company, especially the legal department.

6. Clearly communicate the existence of and updates to guidelines. It’s one thing to establish guidelines, but they will fail if employees do not understand or know about them.

7.  Provide training. Many instances of employees breaching social media guidelines are down to lack of understanding. Some don’t realise that Twitter is a public environment for everyone to see, for example; some don’t know how to set privacy settings on Facebook. Providing training sessions on how to use social media appropriately within the workplace could prevent future social media mishaps.

8.  Detail who is accountable for social media activity. It is important to know who is responsible for day-to-day social media activity and who has ultimate responsibility for social media. It is important that employees with questions or concerns know who to consult to discuss social media activity or changes to the guidelines.

9. Be clear about legal issues. Make all employees aware of what is appropriate online behaviour. For example, make managers and management teams aware of employees’ privacy rights.

10. Outline repercussions of violation. Many jurisdictions permit employers to exercise greater control over what employees are permitted to do with company equipment and email accounts, and to set reasonable policies for behaviour offline and online that is unacceptable. Being up-front and honest about these controls and outlining the consequences of not adhering to guidelines will ensure employees’ and employers’ expectations stay in line.

11. Regularly revise and update guidelines. Social media evolves at a rapid pace. Remember to continuously seek feedback from employees and peers and be ready to tweak guidelines from time to time to fit in with how your business communicates via social media.

Trust in Employees

Creating social media guidelines does not guarantee that there will never be a social media mishap at your organisation. For the most part, organisations need to trust their employees and believe that the guidelines will help steer them in the right direction.

When asked how companies can keep their employees from doing stupid things online, Scott Monty, Head of Social Media at Ford Motor Company, said, ‘The same way it can keep employees from doing stupid things on email and the phone. Give them guidelines and resources. Have an online communications policy that follows standard communications policies and trust them to do the right thing.

Rules of Engagement for Employees

For the most part, employers are responsible for creating and communicating social media guidelines. 

However, the onus is on employees to familiarise themselves with the guidelines, check for updates and, more importantly, take responsibility for their actions on social media sites. Often, many employees could avoid being disciplined or fired if they adhered to the basic principles of social media engagement.

Here are some basic dos and don’ts employees should consider when engaging with social media:

DO's:
1. Think before you post. Many people post views in anger or frustration. It is important for employees to remember that what they post to the social Web, for example pictures, images, Tweets, status updates (content in general), can stay online forever. Employees should take some time to think before posting and apply common sense when engaging with social media on behalf of an organisation or when engaging in a personal capacity if an account can be linked back to the employer.

    2. Add a ‘views are my own’ disclaimer where appropriate. This disclaimer is typically needed if an employee uses an individual social media account to share both personal and professional opinion on matters.For example, it is advisable to add a ‘views are my own’ disclaimer to a Twitter biography if a practitioner Tweets about client and industry-related news/opinions (professional) and also shares their personal views on a subject that lies outside of their work remit (personal) through the same Twitter account. This will avoid confusion and will re-enforce the fact that an employee’s personal opinion on an issue is NOT the opinion of their organisation.

    3. Correct errors openly and in a timely manner. Always admit errors and openly ‘put them right’. It is advisable to tackle an online crisis as soon as possible to stop it escalating out of control.

    4. Be respectful. Always seek permission when updating information and uploading images and videos featuring colleagues or clients to various social media platforms including, but not exclusive to, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

    5. Check privacy settings. Ensure personal profiles are protected and cannot be discovered by members of the public or your employers. Also, employees should not accept friend requests from managers if they don’t want employers to see their status updates.

    6. Disclose relationships and connections. If an employee is engaging on behalf of an organisation, an employee must disclose relationships with clients or other parties if endorsing an individual or a product or service.

    7. Regularly check for updates to your organisation’s social media guidelines. It is also the responsibility of employees to check an organisation’s social media guidelines for updates to ensure they are always engaging with the latest guidelines in mind.

DONT's
 1. Make an audience feel uncomfortable. It is good to be authentic and provide a hint of personality but continuously being grumpy or openly criticising people can put an audience off and deter them from engaging with an individual or organisation.
    
2. Bring your organisation into disrepute. It is likely that most legally binding contracts include a clause about employees not bringing an organisation into disrepute. It is important to remember this clause relates to online activity as well as offline activity. Refer to social media guidelines to understand the online boundaries at a specific organisation.
3. Reveal company/client-sensitive information or intellectual property. Offline information that should be kept confidential should not be disclosed online unless specific permission has been granted by the parties concerned, or unless it is in the public interest or unless required to do so by law.

4. Be fake. Remembering to be open, honest and transparent is key to effective social media engagement. Social media engagement must be authentic. Using ‘flogs’ (fake blogs created by a PR agency or organisation to promote a service or product) or ‘astroturfing’ (the practice of falsely creating the impression of independent, popular support by means of orchestrated and disguised public relations activity) is bad practice and is likely to go against an organisation’s social media guidelines. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations suggests PR professionals steer clear of these tactics.

These basic dos and dont's for employees are loosely based on section four of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations social media guidelines.

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