Sign of the times: When I first wrote my book, The Small Business Bible in 2003, I never mentioned the phrase “social media” – because it didn’t exist at that time. When I wrote the second edition in 2007, I mentioned it once and, even then, the only site I touched on was MySpace because it was the most relevant site.
But the book kept selling, so when my editor asked me last year if I had anything new to say if we did a third edition (just published), I jumped at the chance to add 10 new chapters on, you probably guessed it, social media. I also cover apps, Groupon, technology – the whole gamut of new ways small businesses are changing and growing.
The moral of the story is that business these days is changing, as Bill Gates so aptly put it, at the speed of thought. Things that were not important a few years ago are critically important today. Not surprisingly, the issue of most relevance is social media – how you will use it and how to prevent your employees from abusing it.
The answer in this e-world, and as boring as it may sound, is that you simply must have a social media policy for your small business. Indeed, social media policies are now as important in the workplace as harassment and non-discrimination policies.
Consider the story of the employee who was on her company’s Facebook page last year. While adding content and checking out new likes, she received an invitation from a fan to view a video. Thinking nothing of it, she clicked over to it and was directed to a page that said she needed to update their Java software in order to watch the video. She did, and then Bam! their Facebook account was instantly hacked and hijacked. It turns out that what she downloaded was not a Java update at all, but a virus.
That is just one reason why you now need social media policies.
As you would with any new policies and procedures you adopt, you should begin by thinking through what you are trying to accomplish by implementing them, what unintended consequences may result and how they will affect your staff’s workflow.
When it comes to social media, most companies adopt policies that are intended to:
- Safeguard accounts
- Protect the brand
- Build reputation
- Prevent idleness and distractions
Among the different policies that you might want to consider and adopt are:
Internal standards for tweets and posts: What is your culture and brand? These must be reflected in your social media presence and, therefore, the employees who are authorized to post for you must be made aware of what is and is not acceptable posting. Offensive or off-color posts must be outlawed. Be specific as to what you consider off-limits posts, and conversely, what types of posts are appropriate, encouraged and will further build your brand and reputation.
Forbid the sharing of non-public information: In order for this to be successful, employees need to know what is considered confidential. Be sure to clearly spell it out for them.
No fighting: When employees blog and post for the company, all efforts should be made to avoid negative interactions with the public.
Standards for the personal use of social media on company time: This is a big issue for many small businesses. You may want to have a fairly relaxed rule and have it say something like “use your common sense,” or you may need to be more descriptive, limiting social media to a certain number of hours a day, or none at all, depending on the circumstances.
Private mentions of corporate policies/behavior: By the same token, remind employees that the Internet is a public forum, and they should be careful of making disparaging remarks about the company or sharing proprietary company information. This should also apply when they are posting under their own social media channels. It is similarly wise to have employees understand that their personal posts about the business in off-hours must be labeled as such, and is not being done as a representative of the business.
Requiring that all updates be done in accordance with your IT folks: As the story above shows, social media fraud is exploding, mostly due to the unauthorized, inadvertent downloading of viruses.
Above all, encourage your employees to use their best judgment. That will often trump everything else.
Lastly, once these policies are adopted, they must then be disseminated via email, employee handbooks and posted visually where appropriate. Adopting them and then sticking them on a shelf to gather dust invites problems. Have you adopted any social media policies for your employees? What have you found works, or doesn’t work? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. StraussYou can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.