5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Defining Your Company's Social Media Guidelines

September 17, 2009

How to build your employment brand with social media and LinkedIn – Tip 1

This is the first in a series of posts aimed at helping HR teams encourage effective use of social media among their employees. As I’d mentioned in my earlier post, many professionals are slowly realizing the importance of building their personal brand with an online presence on social and professional networks. Not only does that kind of behavior help build their own professional brand, but if done right it could also help solidify their company’s brand in the eyes of potential recruits.

The first step in ensuring that they will contribute positively to building your employment brand - and corporate brand – is to establish and share internal social media guidelines.

Consider this post a primer for any corporate HR professional who has been asked the question: What's the process for defining social media guidelines? Before you go down the path of defining and socializing your guidelines across your company, you may want to ask yourself the following 5 questions.

1. Why define a social media policy for your company?

Given the time spent to put together a social media policy, ask yourselves what is the purpose of a social media policy at our company. I'd say there are two broad reasons for having a social media set of guidelines for every company: crisis management or brand opportunity. As I'd mentioned earlier in this post, social media may be a huge opportunity for your employees to help build your company's brand, but let's not forget that there also exists a tremendous risk for individual employees to inadvertently damage the company's brand and by defining a set of guidelines you help mitigate that risk.

As Sharlyn Larby, explains in a recent Mashable post:

"One of the common themes I kept coming across in introductions to social media policies is the idea that the policy should focus on the things that employees can rather than what they can’t do. For those of us who have experience writing policies, this is a real paradigm shift."

2. Who are your company's social media evangelists today?

Are your employees already out there on the social web engaging with your customers? The answer to that question these days is mostly a resounding "Yes", with chances that your employees are reaching out to your users through a slew of social media sites. Pick the most obvious avenues for such conversations and identify those employees who are engaging with your customers. An easy way to do that would be through a simple Google blog search, LinkedIn Groups search, LinkedIn Answers and / or Twitter search for your company brand.

These searches will also show you what are some of the gold standard examples of user engagement practiced by your employees and some opportunities for improvement. Factor this in when you put together your set of social media guidelines. Better yet, bring in your most active social media employees to collaborate and help craft your social media guidelines. If you need to get internal approval, these employees could be your strongest internal evangelists.

The same can be said for finding a corporate blogger for your company. It's likely that you already have a budding Robert Scoble in your midst. It's way easier to pick someone from within the company who understands your internal corporate culture than trying to hire someone new to write your corporate blog. This is of course more applicable for larger companies.

3. How does your social media policy align with company values and culture?

The social media search I recommended above should not only help you identify your strongest brand advocates from within the company, but also how your employer brand is being portrayed out there.
Drafting a social media policy may seem like a simple task since there's a plethora of examples out there that companies have shared.  But, the question you want to ask your team is how do you define a set of unique social media guidelines that is true to your company values and also your corporate culture. From an employee’s perspective it's about being true to themselves and their brand as much as it's about the employment and corporate brands. Both authenticity and common sense are key in any social media engagement between users and employees, and encouraging that should be one of the key tenets in your social media handbook.

4. Have you talked to your legal and corporate communications teams?

As I described earlier, one of the two main purposes in defining a set of social media guidelines is crisis communication brought about by potential lawsuits and PR issues that may be inadvertently triggered by an employee’s tweet or blog post. Collaborating with your legal and corporate communication teams helps you understand the necessary legal ramifications you'd like to avoid with the adoption of these guidelines

In a similar vein, the corporate communications team could help socialize the guidelines internally but can also provide support on taking into consideration some of the PR nightmares that a company would like to avoid with the adoption of the social media guidelines.

5. Have you found an executive champion?

Finally, the easiest way to get company wide approval and adoption of your guidelines is to find an executive champion who gets social media and ideally someone who practices it. Take for example Jonathan Schwartz, CEO and President of Sun Microsystems, who has set such a great example with his avid blogging on Sun's corporate blog or Padmasree Warrior, CTO at Cisco who has over a 1 million followers on Twitter.

And the best example of a company's embrace of social media today has been Zappos, who use Twitter as "a great way to form more personal connections with both employees and customers" according to their CEO, Tony Hsieh

I hope this post helped answer some of the questions you may have had on putting together a set of social media guidelines for your company. If you have other unanswered questions on this topic, feel free to leave a comment.