A social media policy is a crucial tool for any organization—even if your organization doesn’t use social media. Because your employees almost certainly do.
Bonus: Get a free, customizable social media policy template to quickly and easily create guidelines for your company and employees.
A social media policy is an official company document that provides guidelines and requirements for your organization’s social media use. It covers your brand’s official channels, as well as how employees use social media, both personally and professionally.
The policy applies to everyone from the CEO to summer interns, so it needs to be easy to understand. It can be part of a wider social media marketing strategy, or it can live with onboarding materials and other company policies.
An official company social media policy is an important document. It helps maintain your brand voice while mitigating social media risks. Here are some of the most important reasons to implement a social media policy.
Maintain your brand identity across channels
You likely have multiple people managing multiple accounts across multiple channels. A solid social media policy keeps things consistent and on-brand.
Protect yourself from legal and regulatory challenges
A well-crafted and enforced social policy protects you from falling afoul of rules and regulations. The consequences of breaking them can be major.
For instance, insurance company MassMutual was fined $4 million, subjected to a social media compliance review, and ordered to revise its social media policies after a trader for subsidiary MML Investors Services helped fuel the GameStop trading frenzy through social channels.
Facilitate diversity and inclusion
Kansas State University recently created a social media policy for students to facilitate inclusion and diversity on campus. Among other requirements, it bans cyberbullying and doxing, as well as “comments or conduct constituting discrimination, harassment [or] retaliation.”
Bit late on this, but this article does a great job discussing K-State’s new social media policy. I was happy to be interviewed for it as a way to promote and explain the policy to students!
New social media policy offers guidance, inclusion to students https://t.co/altqMGvlGm
— Zach Perez (@ZachPerez1999) September 20, 2021
Prevent a security breach
A solid social media policy combined with proper security protocols helps protect your accounts against phishing, hacking, and impostor accounts.
Prevent a PR crisis
Unclear social policies, or an inconsistent application of these policies, caused problems for The Associated Press when they abruptly fired journalist Emily Wilder. Clearer guidelines for applying policies and steps for addressing breaches would have prevented this from becoming a significant PR concern.
My statement on my termination from The Associated Press. pic.twitter.com/kf4NCkDJXx
— emily wilder (@vv1lder) May 22, 2021
Respond quickly if a crisis or breach does happen
Despite your best efforts, a breach or crisis could still happen. Sometimes the violation or crisis comes from a part of the organization that has nothing to do with social media. You’ll still be expected to address it on social channels. A social policy makes sure you have an emergency response plan in place.
Clarify employees’ social media responsibilities
A Tennessee judge was recently sanctioned for sending inappropriate messages to women from accounts that showed him in his judicial robe. The reprimand letter states:
”Judges are expected to maintain the highest standards of conduct and dignity of judicial office at all times … There is no exception to this principle for the use of social media.”
“You will refrain from using a picture of yourself in your judicial robe as a profile picture on any social media platform unless conducting court business.”
You can’t assume employees or associates will make the right call on social media unless you specifically spell it out. So, for example, if you don’t want them to post while wearing their uniform, say so.
Encourage your employees to amplify your brand’s message
All of that said, you don’t want to discourage employees from amplifying your brand message on social media. A clear social policy helps employees know what they can and should share on social, and what they should skip.
1. Roles and responsibilities
Who owns which social accounts? Who covers which responsibilities on a daily, weekly or as-needed basis? It can be helpful to include names and email addresses for key roles, so employees from other teams know who to contact.
Responsibilities to cover might include:
At the very least, this section should establish who can speak for your brand on social media—and who can’t.
2. Security protocols
As mentioned above, there are a lot of social media security risks out there. In this section, you have the opportunity to provide guidance on identifying and dealing with them.
Topics to cover might include:
- How often do your account passwords get changed?
- Who maintains them, and who has access to them?
- How often is your organizational software updated?
- What devices can be used on your network?
- Can employees use personal social accounts on office computers?
- Who should employees talk to if they want to escalate a concern?
3. A plan of action for a security or PR crisis
One goal of your social media policy is to prevent the need for a social media crisis management plan. But it’s best to have both.
Consider whether these should be two separate documents, especially if your social media policy will be posted publicly.
Your crisis management plan should include:
- An up-to-date emergency contact list with specific roles: the social media team, legal and PR experts—all the way up to C-level decision-makers
- Guidelines for identifying the scope of the crisis
- An internal communication plan
- An approval process for response
Being prepared in advance will improve your response time and reduce stress for those directly managing the crisis.
4. An outline on how to comply with the law
Details will vary from country to country or even state to state. The requirements are much stricter for organizations in regulated industries. Be sure to consult your legal counsel for this section.
At the very least, your policy should touch on the following:
- How to comply with copyright law on social media, especially when using third-party content
- How to handle customer information and other private data
- Restrictions or disclaimers required for testimonials or marketing claims
- Confidentiality regarding your organization’s internal information
5. Guidance for employees’ personal social media accounts
It took a rebuke from authorities for the judge mentioned above to learn he shouldn’t use his robes in his profile photo on personal accounts. Don’t leave employees in the dark about what’s expected of them.
Of course, you can’t get too draconian about how employees use their personal social accounts. Especially if there is no way for a casual observer to identify them as an employee of your company. Here are some common social media policy elements related to employees’ accounts:
- Guidelines about content showing the workplace
- Guidelines about content showing the uniform
- Whether it’s okay to mention the company in profile bios
- If yes, what disclaimers about content representing personal rather than corporate opinions are required
- The requirement to identify themselves as an employee when discussing the company or competitors
6. Employee advocacy guidelines
Your social media team probably speaks your brand’s voice in their sleep. And your official spokespeople are ready to answer tough questions on the fly. But what about everyone else?
Employees who are excited about their work can be some of your best advocates on social media.
But they may not always know exactly what is appropriate to say and when. For example, you don’t want an overly keen employee posting about a new product or feature before it launches. Once that feature goes live, though, you want them to have all the tools they need to share it with the world.
Some important items to include in this section of your policy are:
- Do you have an approved content library, and how can employees access it?
- Are employees allowed to engage with people mentioning the brand on social?
- How should employees deal with negative comments about the company on social, and who should they notify?
1. Download our social media policy template
It’s free, and it asks all the questions you need to get started.
Bonus: Get a free, customizable social media policy template to quickly and easily create guidelines for your company and employees.
2. Seek input from stakeholders
You can probably get some great ideas about your unique needs from:
- your product’s power users
- the marketing team
- the social team
- the HR team
- any public spokespeople
- your legal team
Don’t forget to get regular employees involved in the discussion. After all, this policy affects all of them.
This doesn’t mean you need feedback from every single employee. But do get input from team leads, union reps, or others who can represent groups of employees to let you know about any ideas, questions, or concerns.
For example, greater consultation with staff journalists could have saved the BBC plenty of headaches when it released its new social media policy.
Among other rules, the policy states:
“If your work requires you to maintain your impartiality, don’t express a personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics, or ‘controversial subjects.’”
But the National Union of Journalists said they had concerns:
“The changes could constrain individuals’ ability to meaningfully participate and engage in issues that matter to them – whether that’s in their trade union, their communities or in events such as Pride.”
This could likely have been resolved before the policy came into play rather than playing out publicly after the fact.
#NUJ Michelle Stanistreet said: “It’s disappointing there was no consultation with staff unions on the social media rule changes and we’ll be raising all the concerns NUJ members and reps have shared with us when we meet the #BBC.” https://t.co/fFLqavU42k
— NUJ (@NUJofficial) October 30, 2020
As you draft your policy, don’t get caught up in tutorials or details. The nitty-gritty will inevitably change, and fast. Focus on the big picture.
3. Decide where your policy will live
We highly recommend adding your policy to your employee handbook so that new hires can work through it during onboarding.
But where will existing employees access it? Will it live on your company intranet, or shared drives? Depending on your organization’s needs, you may consider posting it to your external website as well (like the companies used as examples at the end of this post!).
4. Launch it (or relaunch it)
Whether it’s a revision or a brand new document, you’ll want to make sure everyone is aware there’s new information they need to know. Whether you announce it via internal email or at an all-hands meeting, make sure you leave plenty of room and opportunity for questions.
If you’re launching a new update, include a list of key changes and a revision date.
5. Schedule an update for next year (or even next quarter)
It’s not uncommon to see social media policies that date back to the dark ages of 2013 or 2011. (You can tell because they use buzzwords like “Web 2.0” and “microblogs.”)
Social media is in constant flux, and your social media policy will need regular updates. Networks and functionalities change, new social media sites emerge, and others fall.
Your social media policy can’t just sit in a drawer (or a Google Doc.). Those policies from the early 2010s could not have anticipated the rise of TikTok or the constant level of connection people now have with their mobile devices.
Committing to an annual, biannual, or even quarterly review will ensure your policy stays useful and relevant. At the very least, you’ll want to ensure all the details and contact information are up to date.
6. Enforce it
Creating a social media policy is great. But if no one’s enforcing it, why bother?
In May, the U.S. Postal Service Inspector General released a disappointing review of USPS social media channels.
Among other findings, the report flagged:
“… unapproved accounts for 15 post offices, nine departments, three sales teams, and multiple employees using their social media accounts in an official capacity without the proper approval.”
Why? Because they weren’t enforcing their social media policy.
The USPS then issued a “social media policy reminder” to employees and contractors “that they’re prohibited from speaking on behalf of the organization on websites, blogs and other forms of social media without permission.” They also noted that “the social media team conducts routine audits of sites that claim to represent the Postal Service.”
The lessons here relate to social listening and social media audits.
First, your social media policy should include a schedule of regular audits to identify new accounts that claim to represent your company.
Second, your team should engage in social listening. This will identify social conversations about your brand and any posts that go against your policy.
Make sure your social policy includes details of the consequences for breaching the requirements, so no one is surprised by disciplinary action if they break the rules.
Social media policy examples
Sometimes there’s nothing like a real-world example to get things going. Here are some great ones to model when creating your own social media policy.
Nordstrom’s social media policy is short and to the point but covers the key details for employees.
Key takeaway: “You may be legally responsible for the content you post, so respect brands, trademarks and copyrights.”
The research and advisory company Gartner has a solid social media policy that encourages employees to think about the difference between their personal and professional personas on social media.
Key takeaway: “While acting in your ‘professional persona’ and identifying yourself as a Gartner associate publicly, consider each and every post you make as a representation of the Gartner brand and not you as an individual.”
Dell has created a simple and straightforward policy with sound advice for anyone using social media.
Key takeaway: “All team members are encouraged to speak about the company and share news and information, but only authorized and trained spokespeople may speak on behalf of Dell Technologies and issue official company responses.”
Canadian Bar Association
It’s probably no surprise that the social media policy for an association of lawyers and other legal professionals is pretty detailed about its rules and requirements, and how they apply to relevant law. Still, the guidelines are easy to understand.
Key takeaway: “Anything you write or post online can be shared beyond the specific online community with which you are involved. Therefore, craft everything you post with the assumption it can be read by anyone.”
Government of British Columbia
This interactive, visually pleasing policy guide includes many examples and questions for employees to think about when posting to social media. It’s got the required level of policy information but gives employees agency by encouraging them to think about how their social posts affect their colleagues and employer.
Source: Government of British Columbia
Key takeaway: “Choices we make and habits we develop in our personal lives with regard to social media may not be appropriate in the work setting. Employees are trusted to make ethical choices. You’re responsible for using your best judgment and reaching out for help when unsure.”
Easily manage all your social media profiles using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard, you can schedule and publish posts, engage your followers, monitor relevant conversations, measure results, manage your ads, and much more.
Easily manage all your social media in one place and save time with Hootsuite.