Use Your Screams Professionally: How to Design a Social Media Policy

by Aman Singh Das | May 17, 2011

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This morning I saw a tweet go out regarding a poster (see below) from Walt Disney's famous Monsters, Inc. The tweet: Is this one of the earliest examples of a social media policy?

Was this employee handout from Disney's Monsters Inc's the earliest example of a social media policy?

Considering that the movie came out in 2001 (the first part), has it truly been 10 years since we started discussing the" ifs and whys" of social media?

The question then: Are you sold on the idea yet?

And if so, how does one get started?

Software provider SAS, which has maintained its No. 1 position on Fortune's Best Companies to Work For list two years in a row, clearly knows how to make it all work. The firm started a blog on social media etiquette in early 2009 when few others were willing to breach the boundary of the company intranet to focus on connecting with employees and customers.

Recently, Conversations and Connections posted a video interview with Social Media Manager Dave Thomas, who was responsible for writing the company's first-ever social media policy in June 2010.

Thomas pointed out several key factors and tips that should serve as useful starting guidelines for any organization looking to enter the murky field of Twitter, Facebook and all the rest of it:

Social Media Policy: How to Get Started?

1. The First Meeting: Get everybody together in the same room including the evangelists and the skeptics. Let them exchange caution for enthusiasm and vice versa, and understand how using social media can help add business value to their work.

2. Executive Champions: Companies must have demonstrable top-down commitment. To carry out this communication and maintain a presence, you need resources and complete commitment, so get the chiefs involved from Day 1.

3. Set Up Your Listening Apparatus: Before communicating to people, you must do the groundwork to find out what people are saying about you and about your products. Set up simple tools (Google alerts, twitter search, Google blog search, etc.) and then launch knowing the depth of dialogue you're dealing with.

4. Set Employee Parameters: Write a practical social media policy: What can they talk about, and on which channels; The Do's and Don'ts must be established.

5. Social Media is Not a Strategy in Itself: People must understand that presence on social media isn't a strategy of its own but a support system to bolster existing strategies across business units. Only then is use of social media truly effective.

Why Should Companies Have a Social Media Policy?

"If you don’t have a written policy in place, the de facto policy is that you can do anything and everything. You need to make it clear to your employees. Policies allow people to become more comfortable and see where the boundaries are. At SAS, people initially would ask me if they we allowed to be on LinkedIn. I asked around and there was no one who thought we couldn’t be."

"So there was lack of communication. Putting a policy in place, especially one that starts with 'Yes you can participate in social media as long as you do it in an intelligent way' really helped to set the tone for everything we built on."

Who Should Write the Policy?

Every functional head must be at least brought together once to flush out the details and intent, according to Thomas.

"HR and legal must be involved from the start. They will think of hazards you in communications won't anticipate. They will provide a sense of balance to the policy."
"Besides, if you ignore them, you'll end up working through a lot more dissent. They could even become adversaries if not included from the beginning."

What Makes a Robust Social Media Policy?

Thomas offered six tips:

  1. 1) Keep it short
  2. 2) Keep it practical
  3. 3) Streamline guidelines so that they are simple to read, understand and apply according to functionality
  4. 4) Communicate the existence of these guidelines as often as you can with every possible channel ("SAS has 11000 employees worldwide, there is no way we can send out one message and expect every employee to read and decipher it the same way.")
  5. 5) Keep highlighting the successes
  6. 6) Keep reminding them that it’s a corporate priority

Here's the complete video. Well worth the 14 minutes, I'd say:

More:
Facebook & Twitter Legitimate Threats for Your Company's Policy on Ethics?
The Top 10 Twitter Firings and Fallouts
10 Things You Need to Know About Social Media For Your Job Search

Related:
Fortune: Best Companies to Work For 2011
SAS blog: Conversations and Connections

Filed Under: CSR

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