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When I’m writing about social media, I always try to hammer home the importance of transparency: Clear and open communication with clients by members of staff at all levels.

Unfortunately there are times when this isn’t appropriate. There are hierarchies of information and responsibility in any company, which means social media expansion often requires a clear policy so that anyone with access to social media (which means everyone) stays on message and doesn’t accidentally destroy a lovingly crafted campaign with an ill-advised tweet.

In order to roll out a social program across an entire company, you need to train and educate across your organization, and a properly honed policy is a good way to begin. 

Here area few quick points to consider when putting together a general use policy that will help you ensure maximum engagement and minimum risk.

Get everyone involved

Make sure you communicate exactly how and where your company is utilizing social media.

Your employees should know what is considered acceptable in terms of tone and information, and ensure you inform the entire chain of command as well. Line managers need to know that you approve of staff using social media according to guidelines you’ve set.

If you haven’t used social media before or have restricted access to sites then this becomes doubly important.

Make sure there’s no room for any misunderstandings by clearly communicating and stating what you are trying to achieve through social.

Don’t scare people away

At some point you will need to consider the legal ramifications of social engagement; Copyright, privacy issues, sensitive information and disclosure rules will all need to be covered, but if you focus on these too much then your policy will be weighed down with rules and regulations and will discourage staff from interacting.

Instead, consider the policy a chance to run some cross-company training and to educate your staff in best practice. 

Any form of open communication has a certain amount of risk associated with it, but you can minimize this by taking time to provide proper training.

Don’t be too specific

While it’s important to be clear, there are several basic rules for social media that it’s important to follow.

Make sure staff know the importance of tone and of transparency. You really don’t want staff posting under different names or fake identities on forums for example – they WILL get found out, so make sure you tell them you disapprove of black hat tactics from the get go.

Simple instructions about listening,  considering and responding in an open manner count on every network, so institute a policy that values good ‘social citizenship’.

Think attitude first, tools and tech second. 

Choose (and learn about) your weapons

Now you can think about tools. Outline which platforms you are using and publish step-by-step guides for each, covering points like engagement, tone, and basic etiquette. 

The rules of engagement on Twitter are very different to those on LinkedIn, and individual forums often have their own rules of behaviour and different acronyms in play, so make sure employees are aware of this.

You should also focus on the importance of personalization. 

This will help you provide relevant content to your audience and will shorten the time you take to engage, while reducing the risk that your staff will (knowingly or unknowingly) be seen as spammers.

Talk slowly and use big words

Seriously, don't patronise staff, but do make sure everyone can understand your policy.

If you have employees who aren’t used to technical or marketing terminology then don’t use them. 

There may be some legal terms that you can’t edit out, but make sure the whole thing is easy to read and follow. Wherever possible add examples so there’s no room for error and make sure you reiterate why each rule is required.

You don't have to over-simplify, but make sure your policy is written in plain English and shows that you trust staff to use their own judgment. 

Integration occasionally requires segregation

Finally, it's worth remembering that a social media strategy isn't a standalone undertaking. It will need to fit snugly with your overall business strategy, so take time to consider why you are using social media and it's overall value proposition.

It's also worth looking at your overall company structure. While ideally social media should be utilised by every department, those departments may have different procedures that don't fit the same pattern, meaning you'll need to tweak policy to fit with HR, Customer Service, Marketing - anywhere you interact externally.

Make sure you consider parent strategies carefully before leaping in with a one size fits all strategy.

Matt Owen

Published 14 October, 2010 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

203 more posts from this author

Comments (4)


winter tires

You know I hate to think about it. I guess I am to old school but the reality is that Social Media is today and it is time for me to enter the future so to speak.

about 6 years ago


Gabriele Maidecchi

Devising a successful social media policy can be a daunting task for a business embracing social media for the first time. So many details to think of and not a clear starting point to get them implemented flawlessly.

My personal experience suggests the secret, at least for small businesses, is to involve employees as much as possible and always be up to listen to their suggestions and the possible problems they will come to deal with. A good policy should be a living organism, with the help of everyone who are eventually going to rely on it.

about 6 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Thanks for your comment Gabriele, I agree that its really important to be as inclusive as possible. Rolling out a program you should always consider the practicalities of it's daily use by staff and attempt to make it as non intrusive as you can. It's certainly a good idea to institute a policy of continuous improvement as well, we're all still learning about social as we go, so flexibility and a willingness to adapt will make things much easier.

about 6 years ago


Ivo Tsvetkov

 Good article. I want to turn your attention to "Don't scare the people away". Today I received a complaint from one friend, she told me, that Facebook banned her firm account. Analysing the reasons, I thought that the agressive strategy their firm choose ( sendind many friends requests) resulted this ban. So man should be very careful not to give such powerful weapons in hands of a person, who's not ready for them.

about 6 years ago

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