Social media policy: Seven questions to ask

Businesses must create a social media policy to guide employees using social networks and micro-blogging sites, according to Gartner.

Businesses must create a social media policy to guide employees using social networks and micro-blogging sites, according to Gartner.

Businesses should not leave staff to use social media without guidance. Gartner has outlined the questions businesses must ask when devising a social media policy.

Carol Rozwell, vice-president at Gartner, said, "Those who participate in social media need guidance from their employers about the rules, responsibilities, norms and behaviours expected of them, and these topics are commonly covered in the social media policy," she added.

Businesess can damage their reputations and reveal confidential information if they lose control of the internal use of social media applications such as Twitter.

Croydon Council had to suspend its Twitter account in 2009 after an Evening Standard journalist was insulted. The council froze the account once it admitted it had no rules about using social networking sites in an official capacity, and added it would review how Twitter can be best used for "professional purposes".

Furniture store Habitat was caught in a Twitter marketing gaffe in 2009 that saw the chain advertising its goods in Twitter postings about the political unrest in Iran. The company was forced to apologise.

Rozwell outlines Gartner's seven critical questions designed to shape social media policy with enterprises:

  1. Who will be responsible for monitoring social media employee activities?
  2. What is the organisation's strategy for social media? It is critical that social media leaders determine the purpose of their initiatives before they deploy them and that those responsible for social media initiatives articulate how the organisation's mission, strategy, values and desired outcomes inform and affect these initiatives.
  3. Who will write and revise the policy? It's useful to gain agreement about who is responsible, accountable, consulted and involved before beginning work on the policy and, where possible, a cross-section of the company's population should be involved in the policy creation process. It's important to remember that there is a difference between policy and operational processes, such as recruitment or customer support, which may use social media.
  4. How will we vet the policy? Get broad feedback on the policy to ensure legal, security, privacy and corporate branding issues have been adequately addressed.
  5. How will we inform employees about their responsibilities? A well-designed communication plan, backed up by a training program, helps to make the policy come to life so that employees understand not just what the policy says, but how it affects them. Managers need to understand policy and assumptions and how to spot inappropriate activity, but their role is to be more of a guide to support team self-moderation, rather than employ a top-down, monitor-and-control approach.
  6. How will we train managers to coach employees on social media use? There needs to be a plan for how the organisation will give managers the skills needed to confront and counsel employees.
  7. How will we use missteps to refine our policy and training? Organisations that approach social media using an organised and planned approach, consistent with the organisation's mission, strategy and values, will be able to review how well these initiatives meet their objectives and use that insight to improve existing efforts or plan future projects better.

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