While policies and guidelines are key for social media, and most specifically setting boundaries and expectations for employee use of and behavior on social media channels, they’re an integral part of the overall framework that helps a business bring social into every area of the organization consistently and in a unified way.
Traditionally, social media policies are drafted to put control mechanisms on social. They’re the rules and regulations, the “what not to do”, the lists that spell out restrictions and consequences should those restrictions not be heeded.
Positive is Better
One reason creating social media “guidelines” instead of “policies” can be effective is really a matter of semantics…and psychology. They can both provide the same outcome: establishing the expectations around participation in and around the social web, whether internal or external or both.
But “guidelines” has a different connotation, and implies a different intent. Guidelines are just that — guardrails that help everyone understand what the boundaries are, and what the company’s expectations are for decorum, behavior, sharing, disclosure, and approvals when participating in social channels for either professional or personal purposes. But the implication is also one of trust; guidelines say that the organization knows that not every situation is black and white, that there should be room for maneuvering, and that good judgment and thoughtfulness should prevail above all else.
The reality of business, however, is that having a set of social media guidelines for your company is an important piece for one critical reason: scalability.
Guidelines and policies help establish the ground rules that then become part of everyday operations, training and immersion of new employees, and education of existing staff that aren’t as familiar with the social web. When you’re putting together a social business plan, no matter what you call your social media policies, they’re indispensable. But they’re not just about slapping control mechanisms on, either, to catch people breaking the rules. Here’s a few things that policies and guidelines give you and your teams that are positive, encouraging, and helpful.
Communication of Values
Well written guidelines and policies communicate clearly to your teams what your organization values. They should reflect your vision and goals for social business initiatives, where they fit into the big picture, and why those things matter to you. They’ll help establish clear priorities around which your employees can make decisions or judgment calls that aren’t covered off in the specifics of your policies, but are still in line with the intent of your company’s social goals and objectives.
An Ounce of Prevention
When used as a key part of training and education programs, social media policies serve as a way to help prevent problems before they even start.
Many missteps and mistakes around social participation are made as a result of lack of knowledge and simple ignorance of expectations, protocols and best practices. Guidelines can provide a helpful piece of education and reference, and serve as a point of discussion for questions that arise to help stave off mistakes made because answers or expectations weren’t clear (and even encourage discussion if the expectations present a conflict for something that actually might be beneficial to do).
Policies encouraging adoption? Believe it or not, yes. If they’re presented positively and clearly without too heavy a hand, boundaries and expectations can actually encourage employees to try out participation or content creation in social forums, either internally or externally.
Clarity breeds confidence, and with confidence even those who are unsure about the benefits of social business initiatives can be comfortable testing ideas and trying new things because they understand what the company expects and why they encourage employees to participate and contribute.
Ownership Fosters Participation
Social media policies and guidelines are really at their best when employees feel a sense of contribution and ownership over the policies themselves.
Encourage your teams to provide input into policy and guideline development, both at the beginning and ongoing. That ownership not only encourages people to adhere to the guidelines that they helped create (and help ensure that others do, too), but it can even encourage them to think creatively about how to communicate what’s expected without unnecessarily restricting innovation, new ideas, or feedback from teams to improve and grow social business initiatives. They know their work better than you do, and they can find interesting ways to achieve the assurance and risk mitigation execs want while preserving the freedom to maneuver a bit inside the lines and maintain individual flexibility.
A Platform for Conflict Resolution
Inevitably, conflicts or sticky situations arise. Social business is still finding its sea legs in many respects, so organizations are bound to encounter situations they didn’t anticipate, or a particular scenario that guidelines either don’t cover, or for which conflicting answers might arise (you’ll especially find this in companies that have to deal with regulatory and compliance issues more stringently than others).
Established policies and guidelines can provide a starting point for those discussions, and gradually as they’re refined over time with the help of roles across the organization, they can serve as an incredibly valuable reference point when a new and unclear situation shows up.
The Big Objective
As important as policies and guidelines are to a social business’ infrastructure, it’s important to look at them through a positive, flexible lens.
They’ll grow and change with your organization over time as you integrate social more deeply into your business. They’ll provide a valuable structure for your teams to work within so that they understand expectations but feel comfortable and creative enough to explore the boundaries. And done well, social policies and guidelines serve as an encouraging, clear foundation upon which your employees can build and create new ideas that take social business to new heights.
The spirit of the law is as important as the law itself. Communicate to your teams that you value their participation, that they’re part of what makes your social business successful and strong, and your guidelines and policies will not only be a key part of what keeps you organized, but a surprising catalyst for individuals to play a key role in the transformation of your company.
Do you have a social media policy at your organization? Do you consider it a hindrance or an asset? How do you think social media policies and guidelines can be written to encourage rather than restrict and control?
The comments are yours.