One of the cornerstones of a social media strategy is having a clear set of corporate social media guidelines or policies. The best documents don’t just tell employees what not to do; they also tell them what they should be doing to further the marketing goals of the company. Here are some recommendations based on a cross-section of social media policies from B2B companies, including social media policy examples from some leading B2B companies. (Thanks to Kent Huffman for giving me a great starting point for this post):
Invite employees into the process. Employees will feel much more comfortable adhering to policies if they feel that they have had a voice in shaping them—as IBM’s and SAP’s employees did. But don’t provide them with a blank slate. Develop a draft that corporate and legal are comfortable with to make sure all the bases are covered. IBM and SAP put their draft guidelines on wikis, where employees were invited to make comments and suggestions.
Reference the employee code of conduct, if you have one. The code of conduct is the “umbrella policy” for your social media policy; it does the heavy lifting for the more serious aspects of employee conduct (e.g., obey your local laws, behave ethically, etc.) so that your social media policy can focus on the specific issues that arise from social media.
Determine a policy for direct contact with key influencers. For example, some companies allow employees to communicate generally to the social sphere but require that any direct communications to analysts, the financial market and/or members of the media must be conducted only through corporate communications.
Require a disclaimer—and provide the boilerplate. “This [Choose. Blog, Space ...] is the personal [Blog, Space …] of [Name] and only contains my personal views, thoughts and opinions. It is not endorsed by [X corporation] nor does it constitute any official communication of [X corporation].”
Require that any use of the company logo or name be approved. Disclaimers aren’t enough if the blog is plastered with company logos or the company name is part of the blog title. It should be clear that this is a personal effort, not a corporate one.
Have a “don’t be stupid” clause. Guidelines are not guardrails. People need to know that taking personal responsibility for their actions is the best guideline of all. Here’s an example from one company’s policy: “Please be aware that, although [X Corporation] is providing you with these guidelines, the overall and final legal responsibility for any statement made by you will reside with you personally. Therefore, you should exercise caution and thoughtfulness to statements you make online.”
Spell out what stupid means—both internally and externally. Being sure to include the “including but not limited to” phrase, make sure employees know that blogs are not for communicating policies to other employees, negotiating with third parties, or releasing material information about company strategy or financials (or as Sun puts it in its social media guidelines, “it’s not OK to publish the recipe for one of our secret sauces”).
Encourage openness, honesty and transparency. The social media sphere punishes people who don’t disclose their affiliations or pretend to be someone they aren’t (e.g., the Whole Foods CEO using an alias to bash competitors or the Wal-Mart bloggers who didn’t disclose that they were being paid by the company). Require employees to disclose their affiliation with the company at all times and avoid using aliases.
Encourage community through sharing and attribution. Social media is not just a place for broadcasting opinions. Employees should be encouraged to become part of the community by doing research and linking to other relevant content—not just their own.
Separate opinion from fact. The best retort to criticism is factual evidence to the contrary. But employees need to check those facts for accuracy and attribute them rather than passing along something they aren’t sure about.
Demand respect in all interactions. When people make nasty comments in social media it’s tempting for employees to respond in kind. But bad behavior inevitably makes its way back to the brand, while good behavior demonstrates that a company is able to handle negative feedback gracefully and builds empathy. Make it clear: no disparaging remarks about third parties—ever.
Remind them of their day jobs. Employees are not doing the best thing for the company by letting social media take over their workdays. Emphasize quality rather than quantity in social media interactions.
Encourage them to write what they know. Employees may feel passionately about the possibility of life on other planets, but unless they work for NASA, it’s probably not worth getting into on a blog.
Provide a channel for questions. No matter how good your social media guidelines are, employees are going to have questions—especially those who are new to social media. The guidelines should include a place to go for advice. For example, Cisco has an e-mail alias called “internet postings” where employees can get help.
Ditch the legalese. Social media is supposed to be fun, informal, conversational and open. Take whatever language legal gives you and translate it into English; otherwise, you risk scaring off or offending employees.
Make it public. Nothing demonstrates your openness and commitment to social media more than making your policy publicly available. Big companies like Cisco, HP, IBM, Intel, SAP, and Sun, all do it. Invite comments and update the policy as needed. Making your guidelines public also gives you license to borrow from others (ask permission first and give credit where it is due).
Here are links to the best examples of B2B corporate social media policies that I found:
Also, check out the non-profit Social Media Business Council’s Disclosure Toolkit