How to write smart social media guidelines

Social media guidelines are an essential piece of your social branding strategy. In short, the goal is simple: to encourage employees to participate in social media in a respectful, relevant way that promotes and protects your business or nonprofit’s reputation and follows the letter and spirit of the law.

In our new series Smart social media guidelines we’ll be outlining the essential topics that should be covered in an organization’s social media handbook.

Why guidelines are needed
Online, the distinction between public and private, personal and professional is not always clear. When people identify themselves as an employee of your organization on social media, perceptions can be created about you, your company or nonprofit, your shareholders, grantees, partners, employees, vendors, and the general public. Proper guidelines help everyone communicate more effectively to your constituents and are put in place to (hopefully) protect you, your organization, and its stakeholder. Social media posts can have real, legal consequences. This is why it’s important that you encourage social consistency with your organization’s values and professional standards.

Who should follow the guidelines
All employees and contractors who create or contribute to blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds, or any other kind of social media both on and off the organization’s website should understand and follow a set of simple, important guidelines. Participation in social media on behalf of your organization is not a right but an opportunity, so it’s pertinent to encourage people to treat it seriously and with respect.

Guidelines aren’t policy
Because of employee rights and the legality issues (think 1935 National Labor Relations Act) surrounding this relatively gray area, it’s important that your guidelines are not a policy, but merely a set of recommendations and suggestions that your organization aligns to. Employees are allowed to complain. Employees are allowed to commiserate. They are not allowed to share inside knowledge, or disseminate confidential information about their place of work. These are important distinctions to make when developing your social media guidelines. A recent article, published in American Way (of all places!) touches on this key factor, and is worth a read.

Up next? The first 5 tips for writing Smart social media guidelines