Congratulations, you decided to bite the bullet and incorporate social media into your marketing program! Most likely, you created Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest and other pages for your brand. Depending on your resources, perhaps you even hired a social media director, or just assigned a member of your marketing team to monitor, post, and build your social media presence. But, before you actively begin your social media program, you must create a social media policy.

Wondering why you need a social media policy? Take KitchenAid, for example. During the Presidential elections, an employee accidentally tweeted out from the brand’s Twitter account, an offensive comment about President Obama and his deceased Grandmother. See full article. Within seconds, the tweet went viral and thousands of angry KitchenAid consumers demanded an apology. Suddenly, the brand was in full on PR crisis mode! The company responded with a public apology that seemed to calm the horde, but not before the brand’s image took a major hit. And the employee who accidentally tweeted his/her personal feelings from the brand’s Twitter account? Sacked.

Social Media PolicySo, what is a social media policy and how does it safeguard you from this type of situation? Well, the policy won’t necessarily help you avoid employee error, but it will definitely make your employees think twice before posting either about your brand, or from your brand’s social media platform.

The social media policy is a basic document that outlines your corporate policy towards social media.  This policy includes a section on appropriate employee social media behavior, as well as a section about inappropriate content posted by the public on your social media platforms.

It’s a clear-cut document that outlines what’s appropriate and inappropriate content that can be posted online. For your employees, for example, it’s not appropriate to take to Twitter to complain about the company, clients, and/or other employees. Depending on language, posts of that nature can immediately terminate employment.  Got photos of your superior puking his guts up during the Christmas party? Make sure to let your employees know that posting those pics on Instagram will get them fired!

But, it’s not just important to create a social media policy for your employees, it’s important for the public as well. When you open your social media platform up to the public, you must spend the time monitoring what’s being posted on your pages. For example, a customer begins posting on your Facebook page about a faulty product. After a while, the posts become increasingly belligerent and profanity laden, to the point where it borders on abuse. As per your social media policy, this type of comment should be removed and the person blocked from posting on your page. The social media policy enables you to control all that’s written on your page, without cries of censorship or potential backlash from other followers and fans.

And, if you’re going to go to the trouble of creating a social media policy, please make sure you adhere to it yourself! Take Applebee’s, for example. Waitress Chelsea Welch posted a customer receipt that included a nasty message from the customer, a dissatisfied Pastor. The receipt, with the Pastor’s name, was posted on Reddit and immediately went viral, prompting Applebee’s to fire Chelsea Welch for violating their corporate policy of not disclosing customer information on the Internet. See full article.  Yet, two weeks earlier, Applebee’s violated their social media policy by posting a complimentary message from a customer that included her name. You can understand why that might confuse your employees.

OK, so I convinced you and you are ready to create your social media policy. Here are two resources to get you started. If you need a social media policy ASAP, check out this tool from PolicyTool. And, if you’re looking to write your own, this comprehensive database of social media policies will help you shape the right one for your business!