How to Create Social Media Business Guidelines

social media how toSocial media policies and guidelines provide your business a framework to carry out your social media strategy and implement your social media tactics. They can also have a direct impact on the success of your social media endeavors.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to social media guidelines for all your employees and your social media management team, and for crisis management and specific platforms. I’ll also take a look at important considerations for big and small businesses.

Advantages of Social Media Guidelines

Here are four major benefits:

  • Provides a way to implement your social media strategy and improve your social media performance.
  • Gives everyone the information they need to work well together.
  • Makes it easier to build your social communities online.
  • Makes it possible to respond to emergencies before they get out of hand.

With the right strategy, social media guidelines can have a direct impact on your success.

Models to Follow

Create the social media guidelines your business needs.

You can easily find examples of social media policies and guidelines used by big companies. Here are a few lists of social media policy resources:

As you look through these resources you’ll notice how companies have different approaches.

Here’s a look at the different types of social media guidelines:

Social Media Guidelines for Employees

Some companies feel the need to provide their employees with general guidelines on how to use social media for both their personal profiles as well as professional profiles.

These guidelines can simply be reminders of what’s considered confidential information or information that could have legal ramifications if shared on social networks in any format.

You can also read the discussion on Forrester’s decision to have their analysts blog on the company blog and not on personal blogs.

Guidelines for Your Social Media Team

The people interacting and engaging on social media can benefit greatly with guidelines adapted to your business needs.

On one hand, the people interacting on behalf of your company must:

  • Be knowledgeable of various legal terms and what they mean in your business environment, such as defamation, endorsements, intellectual property, and any form of wrongful disclosure
  • Be aware of global implications of your online communication
  • Avoid inappropriate comments about competitors or others online

On the other hand, they must also:

  • Remain positive
  • Be helpful and add value
  • Be transparent

And in addition to this, they are entrusted with cultivating relationships and building community on your social media profiles.

It’s not always easy to balance all of these criteria, especially for people new to social media. And this is where good guidelines can be critical.

If you need this type of social media guide, Todd Defren’s corporate social media policy template is a good place to start.

Guidelines for Crisis Management

You might want to monitor the negative comments about your business because a crisis can grow very fast. So you’ll want to know how to respond to any social media attacks and have your action guidelines ready to respond to a negative situation before it gets out of hand.

Prepare for any possible crisis you encounter on social media.

For example one of the first places to start is to be sure your team has both social media and business expertise. You’ll also need to delegate enough resources to maintain an on-going presence on your social media sites. This will help you to implement the steps you need in crisis management.

Once you understand how to use social media for crisis management, you’ll want to build your online presence and your:

  • Social relationships in your business community
  • Social media team
  • Online monitoring

You’ll also want to establish clear guidelines to for a quick response. These usually include:

  • Ultra-transparency
  • Dialogue, as well as the right message
  • A team able to provide a rapid response
  • And knowing when to call in public relations professionals experienced in social media crisis management

Check out what Chris Kenton has to say on social media crisis management.

Editorial Guidelines for Specific Social Media Platforms

You can also create editorial guidelines on how to implement your social media strategy on specific platforms such as Facebook. These editorial guidelines can be very useful when you have several people contributing in one place.

Creating specific editorial guidelines can help you build stronger communities on each platform. For example, moderation might need to be handled differently. On your business blog you might opt for pre-moderation of all comments, but this is not something you’ll be able to do on all social media platforms, where you’ll have to adjust your guidelines.

An active Facebook page can have a lot of social interaction. And you may need to monitor your Facebook page more than on other social media platforms and need a small team to rotate at different times of the day. You’ll also want to incorporate more fun activities regularly on your Facebook page to encourage engagement.

Social Media Guidelines for Big Companies

While big companies almost always have existing communication policies and these guidelines also apply to social media communication, they also need to make sure they address the specific dos and don’ts.

Big companies might require both internal social media policies and external social media policies.

The question of managing social media celebrities may also be integrated into their social media guidelines.

Social Media Guidelines Adapted to Small Companies

Smaller companies may not need all of these social media policies and guidelines. For example, with fewer staff and less time available, smaller companies may decide it’s quicker to “block” people who leave inappropriate comments.

They might only need one well-crafted set of guidelines, some good judgment and an understanding of social media and their company’s online strategies.

And even if smaller companies think they don’t need social media guidelines like the bigger companies, they can benefit tremendously from one, because it will:

  • Help them to stay focused on their social media strategy
  • Allow them to benchmark their progress and better evaluate what to do next
  • Allow them to manage the time they invest in social media better

Find the Right Social Media Guidelines for Your Business

Here are three things you can do to help you create social media guidelines for your business:

#1: Check out the social media policies and guidelines of companies similar to yours in the lists mentioned above.

#2: Listen to our expert interviews, in which many of these social media pros share the simple guidelines that work well for them.

#3: Read through the social media case studies here on Social Media Examiner to see how other companies use social media successfully.

You’ll learn more as you engage on social media and implement your first social media guidelines. So remember to seek feedback and be ready to tweak your guidelines from time to time to fit in with how your business communicates on your social networks. The social platforms change and people also change in how they communicate on them.

Want to learn about the editorial guidelines used on Social Media Examiner’s Facebook page, which helped to build a thriving community of over 15,000 fans in only a few short months?

Sign up for the Facebook Success Summit 2010 where Amy Porterfield and I share Social Media Examiner’s Editorial Guidelines for Facebook.

Now it’s your turn.

What social media policies or guidelines does your company have in place? How have they helped your business? Let us know your comments in the box below.

Photo credits : Moi Cody & Kriss Szkurlatowski

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About the Author, Cindy King

Cindy King is the director of editorial for Social Media Examiner. She spent 25 years abroad in international business development and then built her own international business from scratch by using social business networking. Other posts by »




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  • http://www.home-business-planet.com/ Maryjohn457

    Social media does cost jobs sometimes so you really have to be careful with your facebook, twitter etc dealings

  • http://twitter.com/lmikles Lee Mikles

    Your comment about needing to “maintain an on-going presence” prior to a social media crisis is spot on. You can’t jump in the middle of a fire and have to explain to everyone there just what ‘fire’ is. Mgmt and front line people need ot understand how social works before a crisis. Also, the relationships you build with followers, etc prior to the cirsis will help you during a crisis. These followers will be able to add thrid party support that can often diffuse a situation. To help explain dealing with a social media fires to mgmt, I put together this one pager, based loosely upon the Govt’s ‘how to deal with fires’ piece. http://engageblog.com/social-marketing/stop-drop-and-roll-what-house-fires-can-teach-us-about-dealing-with-social-media-fires

  • http://www.marketingmy.co.uk/blog Katherine Salt

    Thanks for the great post. It’s so helpful to have these tips when trying to convince senior managers to let go a bit and give staff a chance to get more engaged with social media

  • http://leslie@justasmalltowngirl.us Leslie McLellan

    Very thorough post Cindy ~ thank you so much. I look forward to sharing this with our community. For Lake Arrowhead, CA our “fire season” is here for real. Having been through 2 horrendous forest fires in 2003 and 2007, before we were involved with social media, we do have a social media policy in place for a crisis and know that communicating “what is going on” via social media will help get the correct info out to all involved. It is so critical to have a plan in place and a team to execute it!

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Hey Lee, thanks for the link. I really like the one about practicing to escape from different rooms of the house. It’s easy to see how that could be challenging for many businesses.

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Hi Leslie, I do hope this fire season doesn’t last long for you. It’s great to see the work you are doing at Lake Arrowhead!

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Good point Maryjohn.

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Katherine, hopefully this will help a few people when approaching their management.

  • http://twitter.com/ed_han ed han

    Cindy, I am trying to develop a social media strategy for a volunteer organization with which I am affiliated. I found this very informative and illuminating: thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/AustinSpiceGirl Austin Spice Company

    Cindy, Thank you for this. You have created what I think many people in our positions are looking for; credible, reliable answers to the (sometimes uncomfortable) question of policy. Well played!

  • Ashley Nelson

    I am starting a new social media class at Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business next semester and will use your material as a reference.

    Also, my current students in my communication class have to submit a social media policy memo next week. I cannot wait to share this article with them AFTER they turn in their assignment.

    Many thanks for sharing.

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Ashley, Good luck on your social media class. I hope you get some great social media policy memos from your students!

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Glad you liked it. Does your company have any guidelines in place already?

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Hey Ed, good luck on developing your social media strategy. Jay Baer has written a couple of good articles on strategy you may want to check out here on Social Media Examiner: http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/author/jay-baer/ And also on his own blog: http://www.convinceandconvert.com/

  • http://aremorch.com/ Are Morch

    This was an absolutely brilliant article Cindy, and so relevant these days.

    Thanks I will add this to my fav’s and include some of these tips in my own approach. Will look through some of the great samples you gave.

    Cheers.. Are

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Hi Are, glad it inspired you. I’d love to hear any other tips you have. Are you going to attend the Facebook Success Summit? Amy Porterfield and I are going to show what we do on the Social Media Examiner Facebook page.

  • http://www.blogmuseupicassobcn.org/author/conxa/?lang=en Conxa Rodà

    Hi Cindy and all
    in “my” museum we are preparing our Social Media guidelines and this post & references will enrich our ideas + references to share, thank you..

    Also, as Ashley, I will use it in our Digital Communication class (in the new Postgraduate course on Museum Management starting this October).

    Finally, here are some useful links from the cultural sector Social media Guidelines

    Powerhouse Museum’s official blog policy:
    http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/dmsblog/wp-content/powerhouse_museum_blog_policy_2007.pdf

    Minnesota Historical Society: Social Media/Web Guidelines
    http://discussions.mnhs.org/MNLocalHistory/?p=417

    Ogilvy PR Global Social Media Guidelines 2010
    http://blog.ogilvypr.com/2010/02/empowering-communicators-via-a-social-media-policy/

    All the best
    Conxa
    @innova2

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Thank you for sharing these links, Conxa!

  • Linda Ghobrial

    When we are involve in social media marketing, we normally don’t think about guidelines but it’s really important, this was really informative, thanks
    http://www.smbmarketingtools.com

  • http://www.vocus.com/ Stacey Miller

    Crisis communication is extremely important to manage within social media simply because once you’re out in the SM world, your reputation can go up or down in a shockingly small amount of time if you don’t conduct business respectfully and positively. One of the worst things (in my opinion) that could happen is being socially attacked and having to learn not to retaliate in a negative way with comments and the like; otherwise you and your company will be shed in an even more negative light. Stacey Acevero @prweb http://www.prweb.com

  • http://aremorch.com/ Are Morch

    Hi Cindy.

    Would loved to participate at Facebook Success Summit. But have to wait until next year.

    Soon Blog Expo 2010 is coming up. So most of my focus is toward this event. Hope I get to see many of the team members from SME there.

    Thanks for the invite Cindy. Guess I need to send you guys an guest article soon.

    Cheers.. Are

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Are, our entire team will be at BlogWorld. See ya there

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Thanks for chiming in Stacey

  • http://www.myfamousentrepreneurs.com James Daily

    Great ideas and I love the collection of other companies’ social media guidelines and rules. It’s always a good idea to “borrow” from what you know has worked elsewhere.

    We try to help spread a similar message at http://www.social-media-business.net

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  • Miavperez

    Hi Cindy! Just found this very enlightening post… I do have one question:

    Everything points to having specific guidelines for staff to follow when participating in social media. When employees post as part of their job (whether it be because they are part of a social media task force, marketing department, advertising team, etc.) they definitely need to know the boundaries. However, employees are protected under certain laws (ie: NRLA Section 7) where they cannot be restricted from participating in protected activities as it relates to this law. Meaning, companies usually want to say in a policy that “one cannot state negative comments, be unprofessional, etc….” but this language (according to multiple attorneys) violates an employees rights in Section 7. Whether or not one agrees or not is probably fodder for a totally different blog, but my question to you is, how can corporations work around this?

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