Social Media Guidelines for Small Business

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by Steve Holt on March 29, 2011

Guidelines? For a small business? You’re kidding, right? No dude, I’m like totally serious. According to a report done in 2010 called “Employer Perspectives on Social Networking”, which compiled data from over 34,000 companies in 35 countries, 75% of employers say they have no formal policy or guidelines for their employees about appropriate use of social networks on the job. That’s huge. Brian Solis did a bang-up job talking about this and why it’s incredibly important for you to have either guidelines or a policy, so I am not gonna just repeat his post. Go read it, it’s fantastic.

What I am gonna do with this post is give you a guideline that you can use in your business. I took from Brian’s list of 25 Best Practices and pulled out what I think could apply to all small businesses, regardless of the type of business you are in. Copy this onto your letterhead and distribute it to your staff… put it in your employee handbook (you have one of those, right?)… print it out and post it beside the computer that your staff uses to manage the Facebook page. Here we go…

I. When posting on social networks on behalf of the business:

1. Protect confidential and proprietary information at all times.

2. Never share or promote your personal views and beliefs, unless they represent the company’s view. If you are in doubt, ask the boss.

3. Don’t trash your competition. Talk about the strengths and benefits of your company instead.

4. If you are going to mention a customer in your post, seek prior approval beforehand.

5. Think before you post. Everything you say can, and will, be used against you. What happens on the internet stays on the internet. Forever.

6. Do not use foul language, crude humor, or any language that might be construed as offensive. When in doubt, just don’t do it.

II. When responding to others on social networks on behalf of the business:

1. Be personable and friendly.

2. Never, ever, be argumentative. Know when to walk away. Don’t engage trolls or fall into conversational traps.

3. Be helpful and solve problems.

4. Keep things conversational. People want to do business with people, not business.

5. Be respectful at all times.

6. Be truthful at all times. Never lie. Lies will be found out, and the company will be embarrassed.

7. Never make promises on behalf of the company without seeking approval from your supervisor.

8. Never disclose private personal customer information on public social networks, even if the customer says you can. If the discussion turns into something that must remain private, take the conversation over to a phone call or face-to-face visit.

9. If you make a mistake or say something wrong, admit it and move on. Do not try to cover up mistakes. If a customer publicly expresses a complaint, then deal with the complaint publicly until it is resolved. If it becomes impossible to resolve it publicly, or if the conflict escalates beyond what is reasonable, then request that the conversation switch over to a private conversation so you can resolve it privately.

10. If you don’t know the answer, don’t pretend that you do.

11. If you are helping someone solve a problem, get all the information you can before posting a resolution. Jumping to a hasty resolution without knowing all the facts can come back to haunt you and the company. If you can’t solve it right there, tell the person that you will get back to them with a solution.

III. Using personal social media accounts while on the job.

[ insert your existing policy here. ]

NOTE: It is my personal opinion that it is unrealistic to expect employees to abstain from all personal social media use while working. If you want to use social media to promote and grow your business, then you must foster an atmosphere in your business that embraces it and manages the time needed for employees to engage on behalf of your company. Prohibiting social media use will simply drive it underground and further hurt customer service and moral. Embrace social media, but manage it by providing clear rules regarding acceptable use times and/or behavior. You can’t use social media to promote your business yet prohibit your employees from using it themselves. That’s just like… dumb. Don’t be dumb.

So there you have it. Short, and sweet. But hey, if you don’t like mine then go grab one from this list of social media policies/guidelines from dozens and dozens of organizations around the country, from Microsoft, to GM, to the BBC. Either way, you need one. Like now.

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