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Five Things Every Social Media Policy Should Do

Among other things, a policy should explain why breaking the rules could hurt the company.

June 21, 2012
Related Topics: Corporate Culture, Social Media, Policies and Procedures, Technology

To avoid overly punitive or too generic social media policies, HR should work jointly with IT, legal and marketing departments to craft guidelines that protect the brand and reflect the corporate culture, while promoting the right tone of conversation.

And while every social media policy is unique, they should all do the following:

  1. Clearly define what's off-limits. A social media policy's first goal is to protect the company, so it should state specifically what can't be divulged. That may include customer data, proprietary information, corporate strategy and any information about products not yet public.
  2. Define appropriate behavior. While it may seem obvious, it's a good policy that reminds workers that cursing, cyberbullying and sexist or racist comments are not acceptable, even on personal social media pages if they can be seen by the public. "It's about expecting people to use appropriate conduct," says Alicia Laszewski, vice president of communications for CustomerContactChannels.
  3. Let them know you are watching. "A worker's right to privacy is very limited in the workplace, but they should know if they are being monitored," Aaron Messing, information privacy lawyer with OlenderFeldman. If you read employees' corporate e-mail, or track their personal and/or professional online communications, make that clear.
  4. Define the consequences of breaking the rules. Being crass may generate a warning, but divulging stock tips will get you fired. It's important employees know the risks when they post online.
  5. Explain why the policy exists and why breaking the rules could hurt the company. It's not enough to say what you can and can't do; you need to tell employees why, says Mark Schmit of the Society for Human Research Management. Whether the concern is violating Securities and Exchange Commission regulations about insider trading or harming the success of a product launch by sharing secret information, when employees understand the effect of their actions they are more likely to follow the rules.

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email

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