What are the advantages of making something a collaborative effort and promoting the terminology of “resource?”
External and internal communication specialists in a communicative organization understand the significance and impact of the name given to a document.
Even more important than its title, who holds accountability for its creation and how many areas have input and influence on resulting internal behaviours and external outcomes.
Ask any corporate communicator: Collaborative efforts are always more valued by employees.
In the past, I’ve initiated and implemented two internal/external communication style guides as resources (one for work, the other as a volunteer board member); social media guidelines are an updated, social business version of this concept.
In conversation with internal communication specialist (and past contributor to this blog), Rachel Miller, about this topic, she proposed garnering feedback from departments outside of corporate communication—helping to shape the content assists in a more-willing internal adoption of policies and guidelines. She characterizes it as, “Gathering not only your allies but also the doubters,” for ongoing acceptance and implementation. Miller also indicates it leads to a, “You say, we’ve created” scenario, rather than “tell and sell.”
Communicating the value of social business guidelines as a resource sends a powerful message that helps influence good behaviour, particularly when coupled with how guidelines differ from policies.
A social business policy mindset
Similar to earlier electronic use policies, the majority of companies appear to draw up social media policies mainly as a human resources- and legal-driven exercise. Those departments (or counsel) primarily focus on potential damage or risk to reputation, organizational values and trust, if social channels are misused or abused by employees, by detailing a cautionary or punitive tale that may enfold. To a large extent, social media policies are black-and-white edicts, based on current legal and societal norms.
This is a crucial policy document to develop. If ignored, misinterpreted or misunderstood, generally employees won’t have legitimate authoritative appeal avenues, because it comes down to the reputation and values of the organization, not those of the individual. It’s now becoming common to hear of employees being dismissed because policies weren’t followed in social.
A social business guidelines mindset
A social-savvy corporate communication department tasked with devising complementary social media guidelines for employees will have a different mindset and goals than HR and legal.
Although they must correspond and correlate (and ultimately defer) to the social business policies, the guidelines serve as a resource to employees, offering general advice and recommendation for effective social communication, as well as flexibility in greyer areas. This is particularly important when the department or employee is empowered to make social business decisions (within pre-authorized parametres) or when the approval-process manager is not immediately available or on leave or vacation.
How to cultivate more customized and personalized social engagement and relationships on behalf of the business should also be at the centre of the guidelines.
The social guidelines should be an evolving document, updated with employee input and feedback from different areas touched by and contributing to the social business. In particular, the anecdotal (personalized) engagement, creativity, innovation and co-creation or collaboration stories that proved successful and can be easily translated and implemented into general “best practices” social business guidelines—ones that add to reputation, value and trust of the organization, without adding unsustainable resource allocation.
Ike Pigott, communication strategist for Alabama Power—a part of Southern Company that serves 1.4-million customers in the lower 3/4 of the state of Alabama—details how its social media advisory council comprises employees drawn from across the (risk-adverse) public utility who understand social media and counsel internal groups on best practices.
Alabama Power is very cognizant that ownership of a channel must come with intent, a content plan and managed expectations of stakeholders.
A social business communication strategy includes the why and what of organizational values, goals and objectives. Effective guidelines provide for educated flexibility and personalization of the insourcing efforts when it comes to “relating the inside out” to external stakeholders.
Per the Global Alliance’s Melbourne Mandate, social media guidelines should be embedded with the corporate DNA of culture, leadership and values. This allows any employee in any capacity (such as customer service) to be an organizational social public relations representative, spokesperson and set of ears for listening, when and where empowered with the appropriate training and understanding. The employee social media guidelines can assist in this training and understanding, which will increase its valuation as a resource in the communicative organization.
What areas to include in your social media guidelines
There really isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to drawing up social media guidelines, as much will depend on factors such as:
- type of organization (e.g., B2C, B2B, association, non-profit/charity, government, NGO, regulated company, agency)
- geographical location and size of the organization (e.g., national or global, number of employees or partners)
- educational background/profession, existing online experience and ages and diversity of employees
- culture and values, character and personality of the business, including which aspects of these are most congruent to “relating” outside via social media
Universal areas to consider for inclusion in the social media guidelines:
- Preferred corporate identification, including terminology, logos and advertising/marketing collateral or more casual imagery (i.e., official charitable event attendance or corporate team-building sessions).
- Acceptable language, decorum and topics (particularly ones unrelated to the social business) on corporate accounts.
- How much individual personality and activities/interest is encouraged (or allowed) for employees managing various social business accounts. In particular, this applies to social business community managers.
- Preferred language, decorum and topics (social business related or otherwise) on personal accounts, where the employee indicates a social business affiliation.
- Which sites the business is actively using, including the department responsible for intent, content plan and managed expectations, as well as how the voice and tone of the brand should be shared across each social channel.
- Direction on how employees can meaningfully and responsibly interact with stakeholders and publics online, including what company business can and can’t be discussed, what issues they are empowered to solve, and what promises can be made regarding service delivery or other areas needing resolution.
- The approval process and structures regarding uploading content or new social business information not yet available on other public platforms.
- Areas where employees are invited to provide feedback and proactive input on current practices, as well as new suggestions to improve the social business.
In all of the above, the emphasis should be on collaborative and positive, guiding principles and behaviours for employees who serve as ambassadors and brand champions for their social business.
Explain the why and what behind the strategy and invite further queries, as well as opportunities to build on or challenge and change the guidelines.
Not only do social media guidelines assist in corporate communication succession planning, but they also help to mitigate risk from all employees who participate in social media, because it is understood where they can add (rather than subtract) value to overall (social) business objectives.
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Do you have any additional suggestions when formulating social business guidelines so that they will be viewed as a resource and influence good behaviours, rather than a set of hard-and-fast rules?
Should the social business guidelines, in addition to the policies, be posted online?
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Additional suggested resources:
Heather Yaxley (in the comments section): Unrestricted staff access to social media – a roundup by Helen Reynolds