Social Media Management Guidelines: Best Practices from some of the world’s leading organizations

Social media is changing the way we work and engage with customers, colleagues, and the world at large. When done right, social media interactions can help to build stronger, more successful business relationships. And it’s a way for employees to take part in global conversations related to their work and their organization.

According to a survey by Social Media Examiner, 83 percent of marketers said that social media was important to their business. Evenwith minimal time invested, most (85 percent) said social media increased exposure to their business.

Social media has arrived, but companies still aren’t sure what to do with it. Fifty-eight percent of companies are currently engaged in social networks like Facebook, microblogs like Twitter, and sharing multimedia on platforms such as YouTube – but research from the Harvard Business Review Analytics Services report “The New Conversation: Taking Social Media from Talk to Action”, showed just 12% of the companies surveyed have hired staff dedicated to social media activities. Instead, it’s mostly delegated to external relations staff or techies.

Among companies who say they are using social media in a recent Digital Brand Expressions survey, only 41% said they had a strategic plan in place to guide activities, and only 69% of those (28% of all social media-using companies) have set up metrics to measure the ROI of social media activities. Worse, on 29% of firms with a plan in place (12% of the total) had written social media policies in place for employees.

So how do you control the information employees share about your company on social media sites?  How do you ensure they are representing your company in a manner that supports your brand?  Is it possible to leverage social media to build greater customer relationships in spite of the risks?

The risks really are relatively low but do happen.  Reputation management is a potential problem associated with social media use. Despite stories about people being fired for committing social networking gaffes, according to eMarketer’s report “Social Networks vs. Management? Harness the Power of Social Media”, just 4% of companies worldwide said their reputation had been hurt by employee use of social networks.

Some of the world’s largest organizations have been struggling with these questions and more.  Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Linked In are not going away anytime soon.  And posts on these sites can spread like wildfire.  Many organizations see the value social media can provide to their company and are embracing it by providing social media management guidelines to their employees.

By reviewing the best practices from leading organizations at the forefront of social media, all companies can think through and develop their own social media guidelines that will best work for their employees and social media usage. Many of these policies can be found online with a simple search in Google. After a review and understanding of the Intel guidelines shared in the ‘Intel Social Media Guidelines’ published on their corporate website, the following best practices were developed for Etech Global Services’ internal team and can be a starting point for your company as well.

Best Practice #1: Disclose

Represent your company ethically and with integrity. Always be honest with the information you share online.

  • Be transparent: Identify the organization you work for, and be clear about your role.
  • Be truthful: When participating in a conversion, strive to add accurate and factual information. Be truthful at all times and provide back-up data and research when appropriate.
  • Be yourself: Stick to your area of expertise and write about what you know. If you publish to a website outside of your company-branded page, use a disclaimer such as: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent my company’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”

Best Practice #2: Protect

While it is important to be transparent, it is equally important to ensure that what you write does not violate your company’s confidentiality or legal guidelines for commercial speech—or your own privacy. Remember, if you’re online, you’re on the record—everything on the Internet is public and searchable. And what you write is ultimately your responsibility.

  • Don’t Share Confidential Information: Never reveal your company’s classified or confidential information. If you’re unsure, check with your manager or HR department. Generally, off-limit topics include litigation, non-published financials, and unreleased product information. Also, many clients do not give permission to be disclosed so check with your manager or legal department before mentioning specific client names.  Respect your company’s brand, trademark, copyright, fair use, and trade secrets. If you are not sure, don’t publish it.
  • Don’t Put Down Your Competitors: Play nice. Don’t slam your competition.  It’s better to be professional with your comments and gain respect for what you have to offer.
  • Don’t Overshare:  Once you hit “share,” you usually can’t get it back. Be judicious about the content you publish.
  • Keep Records:Keep track of your conversations when they’re officially representing your company.  You never know when you may need that documentation!

Best Practice #3: Use Common Sense

In online social networks, perception becomes reality.  The lines between personal and professional and public and private are more blurred than ever.  When you identify yourself as an employee of a certain company, you are immediately creating a perception about your experience and about your company.

  • Add Valuable Comments:There are millions of posts out there so make yours stand out by being helpful and thought-provoking. This is a conversation, so keep it real and not “spammy”. Ask questions, listen and stay engaged with the conversation.  You can also broaden the dialogue by citing others who are writing about the same topic and allowing your content to be shared.
  • Keep Your Cool:Online social media sites can definitely be a place for a healthy debate but keep it there and do not allow it to escalate.  Write in a way that invites differing points of view without insulting or stirring up others.  Also, don’t be afraid to let it go sometimes.  You don’t need to respond to every criticism.  Be careful and considerate.
  • Admit Your Mistake: If you make a mistake, admit it. As soon as you realize your error, correct your post or add a comment to admit your mistake and correct the information.
  • Be Polite and Courteous:Refrain from name calling, profanity, fighting words, discriminatory epithets, sexual harassment, bullying, gruesome language or the like.  In any organization, this will not be tolerated.
  • Be Professional: Refrain from engaging in heated discussion and use good judgment when expressing opinions that may pose a potential conflict. Do not post angry comments or attack individuals engaging in the discussion.
  • Use Restraint:Refrain from discussing specifics about work-related matters.  Don’t post personal information about yourself or your colleagues.   A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Am I comfortable sharing this with a member of the executive management team?”  Once it’s online, there’s a good chance your boss or client will see it!  Take the time to do that gut check before hitting “Blog.”

Now that best practices are in place and your employees are posting on your company’s behalf, consider a monitoring service to keep an eye on the social media activities of your company.  You will be able to quickly address and correct any statements that are false or misleading, or any disclosed information that violates your company’s policies.

Social media is a very effective way to keep employees, stockholders, customers and others up-to-date on what is happening with your company.  It’s a great way to provide customer service.  It’s a great way to exchange ideas and to learn. By providing social media management guidelines to your employees, you can benefit from all that social media has to offer while considerably reducing your risks.

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