Social media guidelines – a necessary evil that might just save your reputation!

LinkedIn recently announced it had passed 15 million members in the UK, a 50 per cent increase since September 2012. Amongst the most represented industries were IT in first place, closely followed by healthcare in fourth.

Many organisations within these industries have understood the impact that social media, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, can have on their business and are very active on these channels, some with greater success than others!

Forward-thinking businesses need to embrace employees that use social media as potential brand ambassadors, therefore it’s vital that organisations, and their staff, fully understand the etiquette and professionalism that is required in their use.

That’s why social media guidelines are so important as they provide a framework around which to structure and deploy a successful social media strategy. However, creating these guidelines is not an easy process and will vary greatly from one organisation to another, depending on its size, purpose and corporate culture.

Guidelines need to be clear and concise. They need to address the basics such as which social media platforms to use, how they are going to be monitored, how often to tweet or post, and how to get across the organisation’s brand values and of course tone of voice.

They also need to cover more complex issues such as dealing with criticism, customer complaints and press enquiries, as well as any legal implications that may occur. Not to be forgotten is the inclusion of guidelines for employees’ personal accounts as these can have an impact on the employer’s reputation, as Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust discovered.

Proactively, social media guidelines should also enable good content creation. They are meant to support employees responsible for social media to ensure the content they develop on social media channels is aligned with the organisation’s key messages and topics.

However it is worth remembering that social media is all about personal interactions, therefore being too restrictive is just not going to work; employees should be empowered to use their judgment when engaging with social media.

Dealing with a crisis requires clear guidelines, which should detail how to respond to negative comments or news before it gets out of hand. This would usually include the need for transparency, dialogue, as well as the right message, and crucially providing a rapid response.

Of course having guidelines in place is only the first step. They must then be communicated to staff effectively so that they are aware of them, and understand them fully. This will need to be reinforced regularly as in reality people tend to forget about guidelines! However employees can be engaged effectively through the use of videos, animations, webinars, or infographics.

Social media policies will also need to be regularly updated as organisations discover that certain aspects of them do not work in practice.

As the world of social media continues to evolve and new channels emerge, guidelines must be included as part of a wider digital training scheme. After all, employees can only follow guidelines if they have a good understanding of the social media channels they are using and the objectives of the organisation using them.

Navigating the social media world is not plain sailing and can be time consuming, but the rewards in terms of brand awareness and lead generation will make the efforts worthwhile. At the heart of a successful social campaign lie good guidelines.

So if yours are not in place yet, time to get started!

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