Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn… There certainly seems to be no shortage of social media networks that have caught on and are connecting people all around the world. Recent statistics show that 72% of all adults now visit Facebook each month, and a staggering 500 million tweets are posted each day.

With this in mind, it’s obvious why social media has become an essential part of the marketing strategy for the vast majority of businesses, including small and medium-sized businesses. One of the biggest draws is that it’s free marketing; businesses can increase their exposure by making connections with potential customers, and then by nurturing those connections with further tweets, comments, Facebook statuses, blogs and photos – all without denting the marketing budget.

Opportunities come with challenges

It’s important to remember the word ‘social’ in social media. While there is huge value for businesses in social media, it can also pose challenges in the office environment. This is because not only are your customers on Facebook and Twitter, so are your employees. The majority of us use social media for our own personal purposes, and many of us use it every day. So it’s important for businesses to have a social media policy in place to deal with the increasing personal use of social media by employees.

A lot of organisations have general IT policies that make passing reference to using social media. However, increasingly businesses are recognising that social media is quite a different beast and are dedicating full policy documents to social media alone. Here are six top tips to make sure your social media policy works, and works effectively


Tip 1 – Be clear on personal use

Checking Facebook or Twitter is not the same as checking your personal emails. It’s easy to get stuck in a ‘Facebook hole’ or a ‘Twitter hole’ by spending time trawling through your newsfeed, reading all your friends’ statuses, pictures and videos, and leaving comments. If your policy is that only business use is allowed in working hours; or that personal use is allowed only in breaks or at lunch; or that reasonable personal use is allowed as long as your employees finish the work that is assigned to them; you need to be clear in all cases.

Tip 2 – Personal views

You also need to ensure that your employees make clear, if they express personal views on social media sites, that these are their own and not made on behalf of the company or business they are affiliated with. Not everyone puts their workplace on their Facebook profile, but many do, which ties them and all their Facebook activities to that company. If certain views expressed could potentially be deemed as coming from the company, employees need to be clear that it’s a personal opinion only, or shouldn’t post it at all.

Tip 3 – Remind employees that social media is public

It sounds obvious but once an employee posts something, it’s out there in the public domain. Facebook has optional privacy settings so you can make sure only your friends see your statuses, photos and personal information, but not everyone utilises the option, in which case their statuses can be seen by anyone. Other sites like Twitter are designed to be public; a tweet can be seen by anyone in the world, and Twitter is designed to connect people globally, from all walks of life. This is why tweets have the capability of being hugely controversial (anyone heard of Katie Hopkins?) and can lead to criminal prosecutions.

You therefore need to make sure your employees understand the potential impact of the things they post. This includes both the potential reputational damage to the business that negative posts can cause, and any legal implications as well. Employees should also remember that if they have their work colleagues on Facebook or Twitter or other social media sites, they should be careful that any statuses they post do not cause frictions and problems at work.

We live in an age of abundant communication; communication is good, but writing something can often be perceived very differently to saying something to a person’s face. Therefore the number one rule in any social media policy should be: think before you post.

Tip 4 – Dealing with breaches

You also need to make sure that your social media policy covers breaches of that policy, even if it means referring employees to a separate disciplinary policy. However, make clear the possible things that could constitute breaches, i.e. damage to the business’s reputation, defamatory comments about a colleague or customer, or breaches of confidentiality rules.

Tip 5 – Don’t limit the wording

This is a point about efficiency. In all policies, you don’t want to be too specific about something that means you have to frequently update the policy with new wording. In the case of social media, you need to be clear, but don’t limit the scope of your policy, because new social media sites are appearing every week. Your policy should be written so that it applies to them as well. Where possible, use terms like “social networking site” and “social networking service” rather than referring to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram specifically.

Tip 6 – Be aware of security threats

Social media is a way of connecting people globally, but with these connections come security threats that you should be aware of. Such threats include phishing attempts, hacking and unwanted distribution of spam and malware. You need to make sure you protect your assets against such attacks.