What strategies should global organizations adopt when creating social media guidelines?

Employees are key. Despite the rise of social media, some staffers may need to be educated about what they can post online. Training allows them to engage consumers with confidence.


Josh Hallett, SVP, PN Connect, Porter Novelli

Eran Kolran, Marketing manager, Buzzi International

Pamela Meek, Senior director of external communications, SAS

Rose Mary Moegling, Manager, social media, Toshiba America Medical Systems

Vincent Tam , MD, Greater China, Doremus

Josh Hallett, SVP, PN Connect, Porter Novelli
First and foremost, be true to your brand. Your social media policies should match your corporate culture and align with your existing business conduct guidelines. How your employees conduct themselves should be the same, both online and offline. Aligning culture and conduct policies help with training, adoption, and adherence.

When drafting a policy, remember etiquette guidelines and policies are not the same thing. Corporate policies should focus on behavior that can get an employee disciplined or terminated. Social media netiquette guides and best practices are another discussion.

The development process should include key internal stakeholders, such as PR, marketing, HR, IT, and legal. While PR and marketing may have a firm grasp on social media best practices, the others understand employment law and other existing policies on corporate conduct. In a global model, start first by developing a framework at the corporate level and then allow regions to provide input on a local level. It's difficult for a central corporate office to understand all the cultures, customs, and etiquette in every region. This type of coordination helps with local buy-in and later on with enforcement.

Social media policies apply to all employees and this wording should be written for all to understand across all languages and roles and not contain any buzzwords.

Recognize that your policy will need to be reviewed and updated yearly. The digital space changes remarkably fast, with new platforms, and terms and conditions emerging, societal norms shifting, and legal precedents being set. What was cutting edge 15 months ago is likely outdated today. Plan to review your policy annually and make any necessary adjustments.

Eran Kolran, marketing manager, Buzzi International 
Decided your company should be more social? By now, most companies have realized that being social isn't only about opening a Facebook page or a Twitter account, but rather communicating differently and transparently online.

This strategic decision, with its risks and opportunities, often necessitates a policy change at all levels of a company's corporate communications, affecting executives, employees, providers, and customers.

Still ready to go social? It's now time to create the tactics to bring that vision to fruition and the first thing to look at is how you encourage employees to engage.

Employees who are uninformed about what is acceptable will be less likely to engage openly. Informing employees of legal issues, combined with confidentiality issues, is more about allowing them to engage with confidence, rather than restricting them.

With this positive approach in mind, instruct employees to create added value for their clients and the company through these interactions. Provide messages, talking points, and other helpful tips.

To achieve benefit from engagement, a strong emphasis is set on creating a framework that allows for information to flow freely and quickly from each interaction. This information allows for a rapid response to customer issues, enabling consumer input into company decisions, and modifying the social media approach as needed.

Guidelines can contribute to engagement, but when applied in excess, they can discourage it. What is important is to create an open and transparent atmosphere in which engagement may thrive.

Pamela Meek, senior director of external communications, SAS 
If you're just getting started on developing social media guidelines, this is one of those times when procrastinating worked in your favor. Plenty of material is out there in order to adapt.

Naturally, you need to fashion guidelines to align with corporate culture and your industry's regulatory environment, but the foundational material already exists.

When we started drafting our guidelines, we called industry peers who shared their work. With cheat sheets in hand, gather a cross-divisional team including corporate communications, human resources, marketing, sales, legal, and IT to discuss your company's social media objectives, which should be front and center in the guidelines.

Don't waste time on rules. Your company already has conduct policies. Remind employees that those rules apply online. The big difference is that social media is visible to the world and cannot be erased.

Conduct policies should be expanded in a few key areas. The core theme is, "Do no harm." Social media guidelines should protect employees and the brand. Address copyright and branding in simple language, as well as the importance of protecting intellectual property, how to talk about customers and partners, and online security issues unique to social media.

Address social media and brand strategies or you will find yourself hiring a consultant later to clean up the mess. Make it easy for people to grab pre-designed brand icons. Give them a directory of social media properties the company already supports so they don't recreate the wheel.

Finally, provide training and communicate expectations regularly. As pervasive as social media is today, many people are still novices and need a nonjudgmental environment where they can ask questions. You can license training that addresses the legal issues surrounding social activity.

Rose Mary Moegling, manager, social media, Toshiba America Medical Systems 
When creating social media guidelines in a global company you walk a fine line between creating a uniform look and voice that everyone must adhere to and allow- ing for some regional autonomy.

The best guidelines are created through understanding your company's global social media needs, building a consensus so that guidelines are followed, and providing a system for future improvement.

It is important to keep in mind that every region cannot promote a company in the same way due to differences in language, culture, and products offered.

The first step is to bring together those who manage social media in their region and have them share their needs. You will find that each region approaches social differently and participants have varying levels of experience. For example, Region A may not want to be told what they can and cannot post. Region B may be concerned about how posts of others impact them.

If you want a globally accepted guideline, then this consensus is vital. By listening to the needs of each region, you can develop guidelines that offer something for everyone. Continuing the previous example, the guidelines should be broad enough that they do not dictate what must be posted and also provide a system of mediation in response to the concerns of Region B.

Finally, because social media is constantly changing, you must create a process for responding to challenges and making updates to your guide. One way to do this is to form a committee of people from different regions that provides recommendations on future changes, mediates resolutions, and acts as a knowledge source for regions with less sophisticated social media programs.

Vincent Tam, MD, Greater China, Doremus 
Just like a corporate branding initiative, where it's impossible to develop a set of visual identity or logo guidelines without a clear brand promise, social media guidelines must be based on a clear strategy that answers the questions of why and who, and a solid plan covering the where and how.

When developing a social media plan, many companies focus on a content plan or calendar. But this gives the impression of a one-way path from content delivery to consumption, while the main purpose of social media is to invite engagement.

For clients, we develop a conversation plan and guidelines. Real world conversations are rarely planned or calendarized, but are spontaneously reflective of what is happening in the world. Just look at the most common topic for small talk: the weather.

While not the most exciting, it widely resonates across geographical and cultural boundaries. I'm not suggesting dumbing down social conversations, but it is important to understand the topic areas that will resonate most with targets - which to many marketers' dismay and surprise is rarely about products, service, or, unless it's among your diehard fans, even about your brand.

Well-thought and insight-driven conversations will elevate brand engagement to a broader audience. A financial institution can create social conversation about fiscal responsibility. A computer or IT brand can speak to work productivity trends.

By elevating social conversations beyond just products and services, you will then be able to create guidelines around them. In other words, if your brand is a person, what will he or she talk about? Conversely, what won't they talk about? Answering these questions can be a simple start to building your social conversation guideline.

The Takeaway
  • Employees are key. Despite the rise of social media, some staffers may need to be educated about what they can post online. Training allows them to engage consumers with confidence
  • Several stakeholders should have input into the creation of social media guidelines, especially those who manage social accounts in different regions. Only then will guidelines work on a global level
  • Organizations need to acknowledge that social guidelines will need to be updated at least yearly due to the changing pace of the medium. Adjustments will need to be made when necessary

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