For small businesses, creating a social networking plan is an effective way to help your business and staff work together with customers. If Social Media is to become part of your marketing plan a Social Media Policy is a necessity. This will allow all staff members to understand the scope of their involvement with Social Media and thereby provide a single voice, presenting your business to the world.

Understand the concept of community:

First we need to understand the concept of community when using Social Media. Unlike other forms of marketing, Social Media is instant and the response to your use of it is decided by the community. Sometimes this response might not be what you expect. Social media gives your business a voice and a way to communicate with peers, customers and potential consumers. It personalises the “brand” and helps you to spread your message in a relaxed and conversational way by engaging in a community.
Your role is to give as much as you take from the community.

So what is a Social Media Policy?

A Social Media Policy like any other policy is the, what to / how to / when to / why to / where to and who can, for the use of Social Media relative to the business. The purpose of social media is to connect with your market and the key is to remember it is social?
A Social Media Policy sets out the expectations for appropriate use of Social Media. Behaviour in using social media needs to be explained to ensure appropriate presentation of the business and its people.

What should your policy cover?

Among many things your policy should cover:

  • A Scope / Purpose? who does this apply to and what can be discussed on Social Media
  • General Responsibilities? of those it applies to
  • Compliance? sanctions for non-compliance
  • How you can use / when
  • Personal Use of Social Media in Business time
  • Offensive or obscene material

Introduce the purpose of social media in your business:
What is the role Social Media will play in your Business? Is Social Media going to be the main marketing tool to engage customers? Will you provide customer service through social Media and when can Social Media be used?
Who can represent your brand on Social Media:
Only authorised persons should address social media platforms; determine the criteria by which persons will be authorised.
Cover what platforms you will use:
Social Media is an ever growing domain and it is important to look at what platforms you will use.
Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Google+, Linkedin, Forums etc. all have their value. You need to ask yourself where you will start and what you will start with. And draw a line in the sand for how much Social Media involvement your brand will have.
Plan how you will use and implement your Social Media presence; one post at a time or many at once, or something in between and consider assigning duties for each area as your presence grows.
The tone of your communication:
The tone of social media is social – yet you need to decide is it professional social or more of a casual style you want to use for your business. The most important thing is to be consistent sincere and open.
Length and Content? How much you will share:

  • How long do you want blog posts to be?
  • How many tweets per day
  • Facebook shares, tags etc.

Make it clear so that everyone knows how best to engage social media and remain consistent, having taken the time to identify the purpose of your Social Media use? stay with that purpose.
Usage? How much, what is allowed and what is not:
Usage covers a number of areas. As a business you need to look at what you want to say and what you do not. That message needs to be clear and clearly understood by all.
Social Media can eat up a lot of time for a business. Management of this needs to be clear on how much time, when and whose time will be invested.
Personal Profiles:
Personal life used to be just that – personal, but in the world of Social Media those days are gone. Use of your personal profile and the people representing you need to be consistent with your message.
The message must be clear if employees can represent your business using their personal profiles and if so what expectations you have for disclaimers etc.  Everyone talks about work in Social Media so even if an employee can not officially represent you, the expectations of what they can and cannot say about the business need to be clear.
Protect your own privacy:
Privacy and safety on the internet is paramount. Public business pages and profiles that share content that is similar to your website are great because they allow the public to find you.
However when it comes to your own personal profiles and other pages that reveal sensitive information, privacy settings should be set to limit access only to those you trust.
Be mindful of posting information that you would not want the public to see. Once it is out there you cannot get it back and the web doest forget. As a business owner if you are encouraging staff to use Social Media it is important to educate on safety too.
Be Honest:
Honesty and its alternative is picked immediately in Social Media? So be honest. Do not blog anonymously, use pseudonyms or false screen names. Use your real name, be clear who you are, and identify that you work in the business. Your honesty will be respected and well regarded in the long run!
Copyright? It Deserves your Respect:
It is critical that you show proper respect for the laws governing copyright and fair use or fair dealing of copyrighted material owned by others. You wouldn’t want it to happen to you. Naturally you need to be mindful of discrimination and other applicable laws.
Social Media Has Consequences
Social Media has consequences both good and bad. News spreads fast and just as quickly as your positive message can get out there so can a bad one.
The speed of being able to publish your thoughts is both a great feature and a great downfall of social media. If in doubt over a post, or if something does not feel right, either let it sit and look at it again before publishing, or seek a 2nd opinion.
Showing respect will gain you respect. Spreading gossip, hearsay or assumptions is a quick way to lose respect and integrity. Respect and Integrity are the only way to market your brand with Social Media.
Respecting others is something we are all taught as a child but is often forgotten in Social Media. It is important to think of others and post as if it was you mother, daughter etc.
It is your social responsibility to make sure your policy around respect is clearly outlined.
Controversial Issues
What is your stance on controversial issues – to comment or not to comment? It is often a tough decision that should not be made in the heat of the moment. Add a clause to the policy requiring approval before posting on controversial issues; this often stops a knee jerk response.
Secrets? Simple, Don’t Tell Them
This applies to your businesses and the businesses and people you deal with. The question to ask yourself when considering revealing secrets is? Would I yell this down the main street?