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It would be slightly strange as a PR agency if we put restrictions on the use of social media in our office. As we access so many tools including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube on a daily basis, the team would find it rather restricting if we put a cap on the time they were able to spend monitoring and updating these sites.

I don’t think our clients would be too happy either; knowing that although they rely on us to provide recommendations in relation to the management of their content online that we were limiting the time and sites that the team could access.

The same principle cannot be applied to other businesses however and that is why I feel it is so important that companies put in place a social media policy as opposed to blanket restrictions or bans, which limit or at worst refuse access to these tools during working hours.

 

Why not keep it simple and stop access altogether?

Many companies feel that if they stop people accessing the sites during working hours then the problem would be solved. Wrong.

All that will do is encourage people to use their phones, which will allow them to access the tools that they want to anyway, which in turn is likely to distract them for longer. This approach also sends out a clear message that as employees of the business they are not trusted.

How can you trust someone to support the running of your business yet not consider that they are able to make appropriate decisions when it comes to their use and access of social media tools? If you feel that you are unable to trust the team that you have around you to use these tools during allocated times or to reference the company appropriately then the problem isn’t with social media, it’s with staffing.

 

How could giving access to social tools possibly benefit my business?

Social media has become a recognised and valuable resource for people and if used correctly can be an asset to a business. The difference is how people choose to use the tools that they have access to. If for example, a person goes on Facebook to like the posts that their friends have put on their wall that is one thing but if they were to use Twitter to monitor thoughts on a given subject this could have a huge impact on a campaign or provide greater insight into an industry debate resulting in interesting content that could be shared with the wider team.

Many social tools are now used as search engines or for research purposes. They give great indication into sector specific activity and provide up to date announcements on industry topics and worldwide news.

Tools such as Twitter are also really useful when gaging general consensus on a given subject. Despite what some people may think Twitter isn’t all about reality TV shows, celebrity wannabes and sharing obscure hashtags with people you have never met.

Take the budget as an example. Many influential business people use twitter and it is a great resource for finding out people’s views quickly. With subjects like the budget you can determine what sectors will see the greatest impact of a given decision and how this could in turn affect your industry. You can also follow the media on Twitter, which provides you with a real time news feed that evolves throughout the day. You can’t pay for that kind of insight.

 

Social media isn’t relevant to my industry 

We hear this a lot when we start to work with clients until we explain what tools can be used for. Again it isn’t all about sharing pictures on the beach. Some companies will not gain great value from Facebook and others can see no benefit in Twitter, so don’t use them – but don’t discard all other platforms in doing so.

LinkedIn is a growing and popular tool amongst serious business people and can lead to some very interesting connections that you would otherwise be unlikely to make.

With LinkedIn the basic principle is that you ‘link’ with others that you know or have done business with in the past. The idea was that you wouldn’t get illicit requests and that if someone wanted to connect with you who didn’t know you, then other contacts could forward an invitation.

What is great about LinkedIn is that it has groups, discussions, news updates and personal profiles. Better still you can use the platform to share your own news with your connections, in turn keeping them up to date with the changes in your business or career.

Sharing information on LinkedIn is a great way to drive traffic to your website and to share your updated content online using business pages. Not only can you provide people with an insight into your organisation but also position your business as a market leader.

 

So what about this social media policy?

Having a social media policy in place means that everyone knows where they stand. It is a guide that can be referred to and used to provide employees with the do’s and don’ts of social media for business.

Due to the nature of some businesses, such as those within the legal sector, it can be difficult to allow employees to update their social feeds with any information from their working day as confidentialities and cases could be called into question if they were to do so.

Mindfulness is something that needs to be spelt out in a world that is increasingly digital. Some people don’t realise that what they are tweeting or sharing has the capacity to go viral and that it could be sent to a recipient that it wasn’t originally intended for.

This is why a social media policy can be the difference between online media positively impacting on a business and a potential crisis situation, which could secure headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Ideally a social media policy should give some direction; it should let employees know if they are allowed to use their own Twitter of Facebook accounts for business and if they are required to add a line to their profile stating that their views are their own.

It should also give updates on any social media activity that is carried out for the business and what implications making unsubstantiated claims about the company online could have. As an example, would sharing confidential information be a sackable offence or constitute a warning?

Although social media can be a scary medium to consider, when you think that it is a global platform to share your musings with, if used correctly, it can lead to great things and can raise the profile of a business to a relevant and respected audience.

Here at Open Communications we work with our clients to create social media policies that fit with their business. Like many things, one size does not fit all when it comes to social media and although we advise our clients to be overly sensitive in the first stages, what this does is provide them with a starting point and something that they can use that will evolve over time.

It’s certainly not all bad news when you consider social media policies. Having a simple document in place can empower your team to share the best stories you have with a relevant and receptive audience. You may even find that someone in the team is particularly passionate about a given subject and that they would like to share their thoughts and generate a positive debate, which in turn positions the business as best in class.

Generating content online in this way and sharing it can be hugely powerful and when used correctly social media tools can and do bring great benefits to a brand and business but don’t leave it to chance. Work with an agency that can give you guidance and will take the time to work with you to create a policy that will suit you and your team.

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