For many small businesses, social media seems like a necessary evil: full of risks while holding the potential for great reward. Given this perspective, it’s no wonder that businesses seek control over what is posted on social media. This train of thought often results in a social media policy, or a list of rules for what employees can post on social media. Unfortunately, overly strict social media policies can leave employees, volunteers, and other stakeholders feeling as though they are operating under a gag order.
At the same time, if you don’t adopt a social media policy for your small business, you might open Facebook or some other channel some day to see posts you don’t approve of. Worse, your customers might see these posts and take objection to them, leaving you with the unhappy duty of dealing with the employee who made the post.
What each business needs is a social media policy that utilizes the input of employees and other stakeholders and allows them to actively be involved in branding the business on social media.
Swapping the Soap Box for the Circle of Chairs
After you’ve researched and determined the legal rules that you must obey (regarding commerce, consumer protections, etc.) when posting on social media, it’s time to involve employees and stakeholders in policy development. There’s no one right way to solicit their opinions and involvement: anonymous surveys, one-on-one conversations, and focus groups all work fine. But do make sure to take notes of some kind (handwritten, typed, etc.) during these conversations to show them you are listening.
When you finish these conversations, compile the responses.
- What are the most common opinions?
- What are the most common ideas?
- What do employees and stakeholders like about your business?
- What are they willing to do on social media to represent your business?
Find some way (e.g., a chart) to represent what you found from all of your conversations to your employees and stakeholders. Use these findings as a basis for social media policy development in your organization.
Creating Space for Uncomfortable Conversations
Your “circle of chairs” conversations with your employees and stakeholders may reveal some negative feelings about your business or those who are involved with it. Don’t let these feelings simmer or stew, which could lead to future eruptions in the workplace, on personal social media accounts, or in public places (such as the patio of a restaurant: true story from a client). Instead, brainstorm with employees and other stakeholders safe ways in which their feelings can be expressed and addressed without repercussions.
Venting about work is often considered taboo. Employees may choose to have confidential, whispered conversations with trusted co-workers rather than risk being labeled as a “complainer.” But often, these negative feelings can generate good ideas for how to improve your business.
Be proactive by creating one or more quality improvement committees in which employees can identify and address internal problems as they arise. These can include areas such as:
- Internal communication
- External communication
- Developing leads over specific channels (social media, website, Google Ads, etc.)
Provide opportunities for anonymous feedback to these committees. Publicize the work of the committee to investigate and address issues that are important to employees and other stakeholders in your business.
Specify Your Social Media Policy and Branding Efforts
After you have your quality improvement committees operational and have had initial conversations with your employees and other stakeholders about developing a social media policy, it’s time to write a social media policy for your small business. This policy needs to be specific enough to give employees a clear sense of what they should and shouldn’t do without banning all use of social media. According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), general policies often do not provide enough guidelines for employees and often do not hold up in a court of law (during wrongful termination cases).
Although the law does not automatically champion business rules regarding how employees represent a business on social media, businesses should have narrowly-defined social media policies about the privacy of customers, copyrights, patents, trade secrets and other information protected by law. Business leaders need to educate their employees about these laws, ideally providing examples of social media posts that break these laws and examples of social media posts that are preferred.
Additionally, business leaders should decide with their employees and other stakeholders what type of information can be included when posting on behalf of the business. Decisions should be made about:
- which social media venues make sense given current and future stakeholders
- which content is relevant given business operations and initiatives
- generic conventions of posts on each social media platform
- frequency and timing of posts on each platform
- administration of social media posts (who will do it and when)
Embracing Sharing on Social Media as Business Policy
At the end of the day, social media policy does not have to be just another consent form that HR creates in order to protect businesses from defamation. With the aid of democratic processes, social media policy can embody the very best intentions of social media as a means of co-creating business communities that employees want to be a part of.