How to Write Your Company’s Social Media Policy in Seven Steps

Has your company adopted a social media policy?

Do your employees know what they can and cannot post?

In this blog post, you will learn how to create a stellar social media policy – one that meets legal requirements, as well as empowers your employees to be active on social media.

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

Why do you want your employees on social media?

As we have discussed on the Trapit blog before, salespeople on social media are more effective when they are active on social media. For example, 72.6% of salespeople who used social selling outperformed their peers in 2012.

However, social media does not simply have to be for your sales and marketing teams. All your employees can reach out to their social networks and amplify your brand’s messages. Did you know that…

  • 41% of people believe that a company’s employees rank higher in public trust than a firm’s PR department, CEO or founder (2013 Edelman Trust Barometer)?

When done correctly, using your employees as brand advocates can be a cost-effective and low-risk form of marketing.

Why do you need a social media policy?

Arthur Kotsopoulos was a Vodafone employee in Sydney, Australia. In 2012, he took to his personal Twitter account, deriding the customers who walked into the Vodafone store.

His Twitter profile identified him as a “social media expert” and “ambassador” for Vodafone. While Vodafone maintained that Arthur was a “self-appointed” social media expert, people were still upset that a Vodafone was posting such offensive comments on Twitter.

As this story illustrates, there are real risks associated with having employees on social media. Sure, we’d like to think that none of our employees would write offensive tweets. But isn’t it better to have a policy – just in case something happens?

Quick fact:80% of companies have social media policies in place.

Step 1: Learn the laws

My guess is that most marketers do not have law degrees. Nevertheless, it is of the utmost importance that you familiarize yourself with both federal and state laws.

For instance, in the United States, read the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) laws. These laws stipulate that:

  1. Employers cannot restrict employees’ right to use social media to address their working conditions (even if the employees are not in a union).
  2. Employees cannot lie.
  3. Employers can require employees to sign confidentiality agreements.

Some employers might be thinking to themselves, “Well, in order to empower my employees on social media, I want access to my employees’ usernames and passwords. That way, my company can modify any inappropriate or inaccurate posts.”

Not so fast! Several states prohibit employers from requesting employees’ usernames and passwords. These states include:

  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

The National Conference of State Legislatures has more details on these laws.

Quick tip: When in doubt, always seek professional legal advice. You don’t want to face fines for encroaching on your employees’ rights.

Step 2: Think about your company culture

Your social media policy should match the tone and tenor of your company. Consistency in both online and offline culture will enable your employees to easily assimilate your guidelines. Imagine what it would be like if you asked your employees to behave one way offline and another way online. How confusing!

To hone in on your company culture, write down a list of 5-7 adjectives that describe your business. If you’re stuck, try to answer the following question: Which of these adjectives describe your business?

Step 3: Determine the scope of your policy

Before you can write your policy, you must know what kind of policy you will have.

Will you write a blanket policy for all company employees on all networks?

Will you write separate policies for each network?

Will you write separate policies for each department?

If your social media policy leans towards the prescriptive and restrictive side, it might be wise to write a separate policy for your marketing department. That way, they have more wiggle room when they are doing their campaigns.

Step 4: Brainstorm rules and guidelines

Spend 20 minutes writing down potential rules and guidelines. Return to that list the next day and add new ideas that come to mind. Then, return to that list a week later and add any items that come to mind.

Don’t worry about editing the list just yet.

Sometimes, it is helpful to read other companies’ policies to generate ideas. You can find an extensive list of sample policies here.

To help you out, here are a few lines that you may want to consider including:

  • Be honest about who you are. If the conversation relates to our business or our industry, you should identify yourself as working for Ford Motor Company in the content of your post/comment/other content… (Ford)
  • Mind your manners. …Avoid posting materials or comments that may be seen as offensive, demeaning, inappropriate, threatening, or abusive… (Ford).
  • Don’t forget your day job. You should make sure that your online activities do not interfere with performing your job responsibilities or commitments to customers (IBM).
  • Did you screw up? If you make a mistake, admit it. Be upfront and be quick with your correction. If you’re posting to a blog, you may choose to modify an earlier post—just make it clear that you have done so. (Intel)
  • Don’t tell secrets: Never reveal Intel-classified or confidential information. If you’re unsure, check with Intel PR or Global Communications Group. Off-limit topics include: litigation, non-published financials, and unreleased product info. Also, please respect brand, trademark, copyright, fair use, and trade secrets. If it gives you pause…pause rather than publish. (Intel)

Step 5: Refine and organize your ideas

Okay, you have a list of every possible rule or guideline that you could fathom including. Now, it’s time to refine your list.

Step 5a: Narrow down your ideas

Look for anything that seems redundant, try to eliminate or combine any weaker ideas, and prioritize the remaining items on the list.

Remember that your employees will not read a 5-page, single-spaced document in 10-point font. So, keep it on the shorter side.

Step 5b: Determine how you will present the information

Think about how you want to present the information to your employees. If you write dense paragraphs, it might be more difficult for employees to digest the content. For example, take a look at a paragraph from Cisco’s social media policy:

And now compare that to part of Intel’s social media policy:

Be honest: Which document are your employees more likely to read?

Step 6: Train your employees

Distributing a document does not mean that your employees will read it and understand it. After you create your social media policy, you will need to train your employees on social media best practices.

To help your employees understand your expectations, look at some sample content on social media. Have your workforce explain why a certain tweet is acceptable or why a certain Facebook post is unacceptable – according to your company’s social media policy.

For bad examples, you can use the Arthur Kotsopoulos example from above, as well as some examples from these articles:

  • 10 People Who Lost Their Jobs over Social Media Mistakes (Mashable)
  • The Worst Social Media Blunders of 2013 (New York Post)

Step 7: Implement your policy

Once you have your policy written and your employees trained, it is time to implement your policy. Before you can celebrate, you have two more items on your to-do list:

You have to determine who will enforce the social media policy. If you have a legal team, it might make sense for them to do it. If not, will it be marketing’s responsibility? HR’s?

You have to determine how you will encourage your employees to follow the rules. What disciplinary actions need to take place if a team member violates the policy? Will you incentivize participation and good behavior?

Okay, now, you are ready to celebrate!

Best of luck!

With this seven-step process, you’ll be on your way to empowering your employees and avoiding any legal ramifications.

If you’d like to share your company’s policy, leave it in the comments section below! I’d love to read it.


If you’d like great tips and tutorials delivered to your inbox,

Subscribe to the Trapit blog.

Image source:Emilie Ogez

Leave a Reply