Almost daily, someone expresses their concerns to me about their company’s social media guidelines. I’m not referring to the company’s social media strategy, but how they monitor and define expectations of their employees when it comes to what they blog, or post on social media sites.
I know people who will Tweet from work: “Bored. Two more hours before I can go home.” Or this gem, which I saw on Facebook recently: “I’m so hung-over, I want to be anywhere but work.” It’s surprising that someone would post that on the Internet for his or her boss to see. It does not matter if this person’s supervisor is a user of social media: someone in the company probably uses it, and as we all know, co-workers love to gossip, even if there intentions are harmless.
I’ve had numerous friends tell me that someone they know has been fired for posting something inappropriate on Facebook, My Space, even Linked In, which begs the question, who would post something inappropriate on Linkedin of all places? It’s a professional site, for crying out loud. Why don’t you just show up for a management meeting drunk and wearing your PJs? At least then the story will have an (initially) shorter reach!
I’ve read many different companies’ guidelines, and some of the better ones have something obvious in common: they are consistent and clear. Here are a few pointers I’ve culled from some places that do it right:
- Know your company’s code of conduct and follow it. I should be able to stop here because, with most companies, the code of conduct can be a good rule to follow for social media. However, social media being a relatively new beast for corporate culture, I’ll keep going.
- Stick to your area of expertise. Great writers always give the same advice, and it applies to social media: write what you know. Give the reader your unique perspective of what is going on in your company or your industry.
- Be respectful and give meaningful comments. Do not resort to spam, off-color remarks or be offensive.
- If it’s confidential, keep it so. Don’t tell company secrets or other confidential information. I’ll repeat this later, because it bears repeating: If you have the slightest doubt that you should relate a piece of info, then don’t.
- Shoot for transparency, especially when it comes to yourself: If you are blogging about your company, give your real name and disclose that you are an employee. Be upfront. Don’t let someone beat you to the punch, especially if you’re the one that is spiking the punch.
- Use good judgment. Let’s say that on your reviews your boss consistently complains of your judgment. Or your friends have had a couple of gentle interventions regarding your judgment. If you have ever drank and tweeted, and then woke up the next day regretting it, then social media may not be your thing. Save yourself some time (and keep your job and friends). If you do venture out into the Social Media Cyberspace, keep a few basic guidelines in mind: never comment on legal matters. If you want to report on a private conversation, ask first if you can publish it. Remember, Twitter and Facebook are not your diary. You are not writing your memoir. Save that for Random House.
- Have a discussion with your audience about your products, service or industry. This is a chance to converse with them about you or your company’s areas of expertise. Talk to them like you would any professional. Bring your own personality into mix. Invite feedback and responses. Accept criticism professionally, and don’t bully in forums or in responses. Remember what your mother told you: no one likes a bully.
- Ask yourself this question: how are you adding value to your readers? What you write should help your customers, colleagues and business partners, and establish you as an expert in your area.
- Never bore them. If it is dry, technical, overblown, redundant, stop it. Seriously, we’ve got enough problems without being bored! Focus on innovation, best-practices, case studies, product leadership and anything else that holds their interests.
- Get comfortable apologizing. We all make mistakes. Maybe you’ve posted a link to a story that was false. Admit it. Be forthcoming and do it quick. Better you let us know that you screwed up than someone commenting on your blog, or responding on your Facebook wall for your whole social network to see.
These are just a few guidelines that come to mind. The suggestions above could be expanded and even shrunk depending on your company and its mission, and I’d love to hear if you have anything to add. The beauty of this emerging marketing and communications tool is that the rules adapt as the field evolves. As with anything else, though, a few basic truths are always common. Tweet in comfort!