What is Social Media Governance and 5 Key Elements of a Successful Model

I’ve been noodling on the topic of social media governance for a while and it took a chat with Jim Storer and Aaron Strout on the Quick n’ Dirty podcast to finally get it on my blog. (Thanks for the question, Jim!)

Much has been written about the importance of social media policy and why every company should have one. However, what’s often overlooked by companies and experts alike is that creation of a policy by itself isn’t cause enough to celebrate.

So, let me start by saying that social media governance is much more than just a policy (even if policy is the first thing that comes to mind, when you use  the term “Governance”).   Governance is much more broader in scope than policy and has greater significance, especially for larger companies.

While your social media policy defines how your employees should engage via social media channels, your governance model is a bundle of policies, guidelines, processes, and educational resources to guide your employees to successfully represent your company in social media activities.

Here are the 5 key elements of a solid social media governance model:

#1 Definition of Scope: This sounds so basic but it is critical that you define what is and isn’t covered by your governance model. Be sure to call out the specific social channels along with the policies and guidelines that relate to each of them. Depending on business and organizational needs, some companies may decide to have a common governance model for their internal and external customer-facing communities, while others may decide to keep the two separate. So it’s essential to call out which ones are included to provide clarity to your employees.

#2 Frequency & Process for Updates: Given that social media is evolving at the pace of light, your governance model will need regular review and update. Make sure you define the frequency of updates and the process for those updates. This will ensure that your governance model is not outdated and provides clarity on how the updates are made. If you want employee participation in the review (highly recommended), make sure you call it out along with details on when and how to provide input.

#3 Branding Guidelines: For a large company, the broad variety of social media channels makes it imperative to clearly call out the branding guidelines for your external channels. The same principles that govern the design of all your external-facing communications such as website, collateral, etc. should be applied to official social channels. This would include, but not limited to, branded templates for your social channels like Twitter, social sharing & follow icons, as well as the use of company logo and related elements on external-facing channels.

#4 Training & Education: A solid governance model should have plenty of educational resources for employees. This should include training on responding to customer feedback, both positive and negative. Typically, it’s the customer support and PR organizations that are tasked with the responsibility of responding to customer feedback. However, social media is breaking down the traditional boundaries and depending on your company’s social media engagement policy, it could be a marketing or salesperson who is having to respond to a customer query. So it’s essential to have training as a cornerstone of your social media governance model.

#5: Approval Processes & Continuity Planning: Your governance model should clearly call out what approval processes are in place for employees to engage in social media. It should answer questions such as: Can everyone participate (highly recommended) or only members of certain external-facing groups can engage via your company’s social channels? What is the process for getting approval for an official account?

Last but not the least, it’s critical you have a continuity plan, which covers not only accounts are set up but how the account will be transitioned to a new owner, if needed. Having a centralized governace model in place will ensure that you’re not locked out of your highly popular Twitter or Facebook account/s if the person engaging on your company’s behalf decides to leave the company.

Bottom line, rather than policing your employees, start with a robust social media governance model as that will empower your employees with the right resources and training to become successful advocates for your company.

If you think there are other items that should be included here, feel free to chime in.

6 Simple Steps to Your Company's First Social Media Policy

kittypornIn my previous post, I gave three reasons “Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy”. It’s reckless for companies engaging in the social media space not to provide their employees with some basic rules of engagement especially, as these employees blog, tweet, and engage on social sites as a representative of the company.

The purpose of the social media policy is to clearly define acceptable and unacceptable social media behavior for employees active in this space. Anyone can put together a bad policy and many policies are long and tedious, which is also why they are generally dreaded and loathed. Here are 6 simple steps to a social media policy that’s easy to create, understand, and implement.

#1 Don’t reinvent the wheel. The objective of this project is not to recreate the constitution and you don’t need a bunch of lawyers for this, either. Most companies  already  have  policies that cover confidentiality and ethics, start with those first. Leverage the existing policies and expand the scope as needed to cover social media activities. One practical approach that works well and avoids creation of multiple documents is to add a special section on social media to the overall corporate policy document.

#2 Don’t confuse policy with guidelines:  Many policy documents are excruciatingly long and irrelevant, because they end up being a mishmash of policies, guidelines, and anything else that is deemed to be remotely relevant. Don’t let your policy become a dumping ground. Keep it brief, precise and separate from your guidelines. It’s essential to  remember that policy and guidelines are not the same and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Here’s an example of a policy – “Do not post confidential information on an external social media site or blog”, while a guideline is much more general  in nature – “Be authentic in your blog posts”.  Guidelines are best practices ie. “nice-to-have” but policy violations can have serious negative consequences for your business, so it’s important not to confuse the two.

#3 K.I.S.S.:  Don’t overdo it and don’t overwhelm your employees with a 100page policy. Keep it short and simple. The employee shouldn’t have to go through 20pages just to figure out whether or not to post something on a blog. Frontload the document with specific yet brief policy items and provide detailed examples and glossary of terms at the end.

#4 Complete the package: Once your policy is ready, add your guidelines section that outlines best practices and finish up with a process guide. The process guide should include information on processes in place to help your social media initiatives such as getting approvals for use of company logo or setting up an external blog. Voila! Now you have a solid social media engagement guide to help ensure that your employees are engaging responsibly and not out there creating a social media nightmare.  

#5 Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!: The problem with most company policies is that either employees don’t know about them or they don’t care. Make sure you make your social media policy visible and available. Communicate it through every internal channel available. Build it into your s0cial media planning process so that folks are required to review it before engaging in any type of social media activity.

#6 Last but not the least, keep it current: The social media space is evolving at a rapid pace, don’t let your policy get outdated and irrelevant. Make regular updates part of your social media policy creation process. Set time aside to review your policy on a regular basis so the policy is still relevant in the changing landscape.

If you don’t tell your employees what’s appropriate, you can’t and shouldn’t hold them responsible when things go wrong. These steps will help your employees and your company in engaging responsibly in the social media world, by creating a social media policy that’s easy to understand and follow.

Credits: Thanks to Jeff Bucchino, “The Wizard of Draws” for the Kitty photo http://www.cartoonclipart.com

Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy

In this social media age, where everything is public and privacy is mostly an illusion, it’s easy to get the lines blurred between what’s personal and what’s business. Many social media champions forget to remind their clients that social media is not without its pitfalls and companies have a responsibility to help their employees understand the rules of engagement in this highly open social media world. 

If your company or business doesn’t  already have clearly defined social media policy and related guidelines, here are 3 reasons why it should be a priority for every company:

Do your employees understand the difference between engaging on a social network/site for personal vs. professional reason?
These days, it’s highly unlikely to find someone who isn’t on at least some popular social networking site like Facebook or has uploaded a video to YouTube. Given the long hours spent at work and the growing influence of social media on our lives, the lines between professional and personal life are blurring. If your employees use their personal account to pitch your products and your customers believe that they are representing your company, your company may very well be liable for their actions even if you didn’t authorize them. If you don’t want the next headline on Techcrunch or NY Times quoting your employee ,who was discussing the weaknesses of your product with friends on a seemingly private venue like Facebook , you need to clearly define acceptable online social behavior.  Even if you think it’s highly unlikely to happen, are you willing to take a chance and risk having to debate it in court some day?

Do your employees blog or engage on social media sites on behalf of your company?
For legal and practical reasons, you need to have the rules of engagement spelled out for your employees. If you don’t have some clearly defined guidelines and policies for engaging with your customers, you can’t blame your employees for posting inappropriate information on your company website or on behalf of your company. They might be including links to their personal website or or talking about products that aren’t even launched yet because they don’t know any better. It’s amazing how even rational people get carried away because the medium is so new and engaging that it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Do your employees understand the legal and other implications of posting content on a social media site or public blog?
Even folks who are engage in social media on a regular basis don’t understand the implications of sharing information on a social media site. It’s essential to note that on social media sites, that nothing is private and nothing is sacred. Anything your employees say could be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and used against your company and the employees themselves. Recently, courts in New Zealand and Australia ruled that court papers could be served via the popular social networking site, Facebook. Peter Shankman has a detailed account on his blog, how a seemingly social media-savvy PR person got into trouble with his client when he posted some not-so-flattering comments about his client’s location on Twitter.

I can understand why businesses don’t want to stifle the spirit of their social media enthusiastic employees however, as much as these policies and guidelines protect the company, they also help the employees avoid embarassing themselves. Many social media gaffes are not because of malicious intent but rather due to lack of awareness and understanding of what’s acceptable in rapidly evolving online social space.

Does having a policy or guidelines mean your employees won’t ever post something they’re not supposed to?  Of course not, there are no guarantees in life and certainly not in business, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try to mitigate potential liability. Just your company wouldn’t let a new employees run the business without some basic guidance, its unacceptable not to extend the same courtesy to employees who are representing your company and navigating the social media space on behalf of their employer.