It’s hard to navigate social media as a professional; the rules of engagement are always evolving. Are social media profiles legal advertising? How do you respond to a prospective client on your blog? How many times should you Tweet every day and when? What should you say? How do you respond to a client bashing the firm in reviews? How do you pronounce gif? Are memes acceptable posts? Why are there so many cats everywhere?
With an endless stream of social media culture, rules, and mishaps, some professionals are giving up. One Facebook post or Tweet could embarrass the firm and cost you your job.
Despite the many potential pitfalls of social media, the benefits of your firm using social media are abundant. Social media is an easy way to expand your client reach, and learn about potential clients. Using social media can improve your market intelligence, increase website traffic, raise brand awareness, and boost search engine rankings. A social media savvy firm and employees can create sincere and meaningful relationships with their clients.
Sounds great, right? Don’t jump the gun – before you start posting on Facebook or Tweeting, your firm needs a social media policy. A social media policy provides clear guidelines as to what staff can and cannot do when posting and engaging with social media platforms. The best policies should help your firm achieve its social media and marketing goals and empower staff to successfully use social media to connect with the community, build your brand visibility and garner clients.
However, social media policies aren’t just about building your online presence or getting more clients, but about protecting your firm. Remember former PR executive Justine Sacco of InterActiveCorp, who wrote a racist Tweet about AIDS in Africa? Or former Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson’s series of inflammatory tweets? Both were public representatives who penned social media nightmares for their companies and were fired almost immediately.
These social media blunders can put employers at risk for lawsuits and losing clients. Play it safe, like CNN did when journalist Octavia Nasar tweeted her respect for Shiite cleric and Hezbollah leader Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein. CNN fired Nasar, citing their social media policy; the tweet “did not meet CNN’s editorial standards”, cost them credibility in the Middle East, and opened them up to lawsuits.
So, how can you create a comprehensive social media policy for your firm which protects your brand and empowers your team?
Five Steps In Creating Your Social Media Policy
1. Know Your Ethics and Culture
Some states are stricter with ethics rules than others, and can hold social media posts to the same standards as advertising. Check and follow your state bar rules. Consider your firm’s culture; what does your firm’s media presence look like? What are your principles on public reputation and how do you manage it? What are your marketing and communications strategies?
2. Write Your Policy
First, involve your marketing staff. Discuss firm’s purpose of using social media and explore your vision and goals. Consider the scope of your policy; will it detail matters of all social media platforms, or is it a general policy? Do staff need their own professional pages, or do their personal pages fall under your policy? How can you show your appreciation and reward staff who contribute to the firm’s social media presence? Who will monitor your social media and how? Aim for a clear, concise policy – staff should be able to read your policy and clearly understand how to act on social media. Make sure your policy is flexible so it can evolve over time as needed. Review to be sure it will hold up in court.
Unsure of the details when it comes to your policy? Check out this list of corporate media policies and read our basic Dos and Don’ts of social media posts
- Respect copyrights and fair use
- Protect confidential and proprietary information
- Let staff be creative and have fun with posts
- Develop a schedule for each type of media you’re using and stick to it
- Encourage positive, professional posts
- Be accurate and factual
- Consider the age of your audience – some users may be as young as 6, posts should be family and child friendly
- Use legal jargon
- Swear or post adult content
- Publish confidential or proprietary information
- Cite or reference clients, partners or suppliers without prior approval
- Post angry or aggressive comments in response to other posters
- Edit previous posts without nothing that you have done so
- Insult your company or co-workers, even sarcastically or in jest
- Share content that is “off-brand”
3. Educate Your Firm
Your policy is pointless unless your employees are trained on it. Design a series of comprehensive trainings that reviews the purpose, goals, and logistical details of your policy. Staff should leave understanding their responsibilities and how their digital actions can affect the firm’s reputation. Start out with a series of trainings for you new policy, and do refreshers and updates throughout the year.
Pay attention to what your firm and employees post on their social media pages. Ask, what garners attention? How can you respond to professionally to different scenarios? What is and isn’t working? Flag posts that are inappropriate and why, note which posts are excellent uses of your social media reach. Be sure to communicate with staff about their social media usage.
5. Implement Rewards and Consequences
Employees should be rewarded when they follow policy and improve the firm’s social media presence. What is an appropriate reward for employees who shine on social media? Be prepared to deal with social media mishaps. Determine what violations fall outside of the protected activities under the National Labor Relations Act and how you will handle them. Evaluate consequences that are proportional to the violation; what is an appropriate action against first time offenders? What is a fireable offense? “Employers must take disciplinary action when they learn about posts containing language attacking people for their race, sexual orientation, gender or religion.” says attorney Nicholas Woodfield, of The Employment Law Group in Washington, D.C. If appropriate action isn’t taken, your firm could be sued under state and federal laws.
Make sure to tailor your policy to your firm’s needs; it’s worth your time and effort to have the best policy in place. Give your staff the tools to build relationships online, boost firm visibility and enhance your reputation.