In today’s landscape, building a social media presence is crucial. Consumers expect brands to have an active online presence and the ability to answer any questions they have fast. As a result, social media platforms have become the way to build a brand presence and interact with customers.

None of this will come as a surprise. With multiple platforms available for companies to reach customers, businesses invest huge resources into social media management. Perhaps your company does too.

Yet, 45% of companies don’t have a social media policy for employees in place. That’s a scary stat when you consider reputations can be won and lost on the strength of social posts. And although people may forgive your brand, the internet never forgets, so it’s better to be safe than sorry!

And the safest way is to design a social media policy that helps protect your employees and your brand. How? Read on to find out.

What is a social media policy?

Let’s start by explaining what a social media policy actually is: in short, it’s an official document that clearly defines a company or organisation’s expectations for the way they use social media. It can be part of wider social media marketing strategies, or live inside your employee handbook or onboarding docs, and allows employees to better understand the conduct that’s acceptable on social media – and the conduct that’s not.

The policy should cover your brand’s official channels, as well as how employees use social media, both personally and professionally. As part of your company’s business code of conduct, you want it to outline how employees should represent themselves and the brand on social media. That means including guidelines to protect the brand’s security, privacy and legal interests.

Social media policies can also cover the issues any marketing professionals need to be aware of to help companies avoid legal or confidentiality issues, and it should be designed to apply to all staff from the CEO to interns.

So think straightforward guidelines, accessible language: this is a document you need to make easily understandable for everyone.

How a social media policy can safeguard your brand message

Remember when the McDonald’s official twitter account directed a ‘tiny hands’ jibe at Donald Trump, or when a Marc Jacobs intern started rant-tweeting about the company’s CEO on the brand’s feed?

They’re just two examples of how social media can be a minefield – and why you need an effective social media policy in place. Because while the platforms we all use provide the perfect place for brand promotion, with the wrong post, you can give out the wrong kind of message entirely.

You can keep a handle on this by writing a social media policy that outlines clear expectations for online interactions and social media engagement. That will give staff members clarity and help to protect them, and the company brand, from negative perceptions.

Within your social media policy, you’ll also be able to:

  • define your company brand
  • improve diversity efforts
  • avoid security breaches
  • create contingency plans
  • explain responsibilities
  • maintain your brand identity across different channels
  • create brand advocates.

Above all, it’s a question of consistency. The reality for many companies today is that multiple people are managing multiple accounts across multiple channels. Yours might be the same. An overarching social media policy keeps things on-brand.

Why a social media policy is essential for promotion

As we mentioned, social media is a great tool for getting your message out there and promoting your brand. By having a solid policy around social media, you’ll be able to unlock all the benefits of employee advocacy, without risking your brand credibility.

You’ll see this most clearly when your employees post about your company online: their posts can increase brand awareness, establish thought leadership and drive leads; they can help social selling, support social recruiting efforts and attract top talent to your company. And when you’ve got big product news or a message to share, it’s great to have your whole team on board.

It’s for times like these that your social media policy should give your employees the guidance they need to represent your brand in the way you’d like them to.

You can also use it to prioritise the diversity of voices on social media, which can help to drive greater representation and attract top talent from marginalised communities to your company. An inclusive social media policy will empower and encourage voices from all backgrounds to advocate for your brand.

The stats back this up: according to the 2023 Sprout Social Index, 21% of consumers follow brands on social media because their values align with their own.

How to prevent a PR crisis

All too often we see businesses wondering what their social media crisis policy is only after they’re facing a PR disaster. Shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted is never a good strategy, but it’s even worse when the horse is already well down the road, causing total mayhem and wearing clothes emblazoned with your brand name.

The solution to this is simple: be proactive. Design a social media policy as early as possible, making sure to include a crisis plan.

This plan can cover a range of topics, such as which teams are responsible for handling a PR crisis, and what legal and regulatory help you might be able to fall back on in the event of a PR disaster. But ultimately, it should serve to protect your company by outlining the social media rules and regulations in a way that’s easily understood by employees from the top of the company to the shopfloor. After all, the consequences of breaking them can be major.

Addressing security concerns in social media policy

Recent years have seen brands hit by a rise in phishing, hacking, and impostor accounts. A solid social media policy combined with proper security protocols helps protect your accounts against these kinds of attacks.

You’ll want to include security guidelines in your policy, like making sure all employee passwords meet high standards and are changed frequently, and that set rules are in place when it comes to employees using social media on company equipment.

No matter your level of security, though, crises and breaches do happen. Sometimes the violation or crisis comes from a part of the organisation that has nothing to do with social media.

So make sure you’re also prepared for this eventuality by including an emergency-response plan in your social media policy. And bear in mind, if the breach impacts customers or stakeholders, you’ll be expected to address this quickly on the social channels themselves.

What every social media policy should include

There are some things you’d think you wouldn’t need to tell people — like don’t use your company’s social accounts to shout about contentious political issues or write about ‘getting slizzerd’. But when your company’s reputation is on the line, you can’t make assumptions. Instead, you need to spell out exactly what’s appropriate and what’s not so that you never have to reprimand an employee for posting a screenshot of your banking information.

A well-crafted social media policy will empower your staff and protect your brand. But to see those benefits in action, your policy needs be clear, comprehensive and consistent.

Here are some essential ingredients you need to include:

The purpose of the policy

Explain why your company uses a social media policy. Be transparent and illustrate why your brand needs it.

Who the policy applies to

You should make it clear that your social media policy applies to everyone, from executives and managers to interns and freelancers.

Responsible engagement

Clarify who can speak on behalf of your company on social media, whether that’s certain teams or particular personnel. And make sure your employees know how to respond if, for instance, someone leaves a negative comment about your brand on social.

How much freedom you give your staff will of course depend on the nature of your business. But it can be a good idea to train staff on the following, as well as outlining it in your policy:

  • Brand guidelines: How to talk about your products, services and company.
  • Etiquette How to respond to comments from customers (tone of voice, customer escalation strategies, etc.).
  • Confidentiality Which details should absolutely not be shared on social media.
  • Consequences What will happen if employees fail to follow the company’s social media policy. For some businesses, the best option will be to direct the situation toward staff trained to manage PR matters and conflict resolution. You should nominate the members of your team responsible for crisis response, message approval, customer service, public relations management and social engagement.

An overview of copyright law

Despite the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harry uses trending audio across TikTok, you need to be very careful with it (and any other materials owned by someone else) as a brand. Copyright infringement can land you in very hot water with hefty fines, so it’s best that social media teams understand the risks.

Familiarise your team with common copyright issues, and create a clear checklist to make sure everything you share online is compliant with copyright law.

Set a review date

So that’s it. A good social media policy could be the difference between a winning online strategy and one that has you up at 4 in the morning firefighting a PR nightmare.

And when you’ve got one written, bear in mind social media changes fast. Which means your social media policy should be regularly reviewed to make sure it’s up to date with digital developments.

Include in your social media policy how frequently reviews should happen to ensure expectations are always up-to-date and accurate.

If you need some social media support, get in touch. Our team can sort out your social media content, distribution, strategy and management.

Written by Louise Watson-Dowell, Head of digital PR and social media at Definition