What to do once your firm’s social media policy is written

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Image by Crystl via Flickr

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about how to write your firm’s social media policy. How it was important, first and foremost, for firms to have a social media policy. And  that it is best to involve employees throughout the process of developing and implementing it.

For any firm, a social media policy is sensible. Your employees are already all using social media, they are talking to each other on their, they  might say who they work for, they are giving advice to friends and maybe to customers. Having a vibrant and active set of employees online is great for any firm, but a simple set of guidelines helps both the brand and also the employees.

But once you have your social media policy written, that’s not the end of the story. It should be a living document, and critically one that your employees buy into an believe in. You want use of social media to become part of your employees lives. And you want your brand to benefit from this involvement, from having employees active in social media and from having conversations about them, you and your brand. So writing a policy is just the first step. Below are four steps to help ensure that, once you have it written, your firm’s social media strategy stays relevant and beneficial to your organisation.

1. Make it a visible, shareable document

The main purpose of any social media strategy should be to encourage employees to use social media, to help them do this, and to help them do it in a way that protects them and the brand they work for. As such it isn’t so much a static policy to be filed away somewhere; rather, it should be a living document that is easy for people to find, read and make suggestions for.

2. Have an internal social media champion

Have an internal social media champion in your firm. Or have many. They should be the first port of call for people  if they have a query about what they should, or shouldn’t be doing. They should make sure people know about the policy and help others to understand it. But, perhaps more importantly, they should be be encouraging  people to use social media, to try new things and to innovate. It’s important for your firm to stay abreast of changes in social media, and  to make sure you have a serious and committed presence online. Your employees are your best representatives; get them out there.

3. Talk about social media success

Social media shouldn’t be an add-on; it should be part of what you do. Maybe it helps you to solve customers’ problems more quickly, maybe there’s been a great conversation about your brand, or maybe somebody just had a great idea that you found out about. Make sure you are taking every opportunity to champion success stories and people in your firm using social media well. Talk about it often to reinforce how important it is and to encourage people to try new things.

4. Keep things moving

The worst thing that can happen to your social media policy is that it becomes out-of-date. And as social media and our use of it online is changing so rapidly, this is a real danger. So make sure you keep things moving, work with your champions to keep abreast of what people are doing, and where they are doing it. Allow employees to comment on and make suggestions for your policy. But, perhaps most important, is to make sure your policy is written about behaviours and not specific social media tools. We may all be talking about Twitter  right now, but soon it will be something else.

How to write your firm’s social media policy

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Image by late night movie via Flickr

In our last post we looked at why every business needs a social media policy. And the fact that the most important thing for any business is to have a policy in the first place. But if you’re writing your social media policy for employees, what should it include? What kind of guidelines should you give the people who work at your business.

At FreshNetworks, our approach is to keep things simple and to make them inclusive. Have a simple and clear policy on how employees should be using social media and make sure you include your employees in the process of drawing them up. Oh, and make sure your policy encourages your employees to use social media more and not less.

Here are five considerations we discuss with clients when developing their social media policies and guidelines that might help you if you are developing yours:

1. Encourage your employees to take part online

Your best representatives should be your own staff and so any social media policy should actively encourage them to take part online. Show them ways to share their opinions and enter discussions and debates. Encourage them to write a blog if they are keen (and perhaps provide a place for them to do so). Let them become comfortable online because they will be some of your strongest defenders in discussions about your brand.

2. Discourage discussion of what is happening internally

All employees will be privy to discussions, debates, meetings and decisions that are not public knowledge. That might not even be known by many other people in the organisation. Let your employees know that they may learn some things as part of their role that others don’t. And that these are not things you would expect to share with their colleagues over the watercooler, let alone online.

3. Encourage them open and honest about who you are online

The best policy online is openness and honesty. You will be quickly found out if you claim to be something or somebody you are not. Encourage your employees to be open about who they are and who they work for. This is good for them (if they are talking about something related to their work people will credit them with more knowledge). Encourage them to do this even if they are writing about something totally un-workrelated. They should say who they work for, and that what they are saying is nothing at all to do with their job!

4. Discourage arguments and disputes online

It is very difficult in social media to have an argument with somebody. It quickly descends into confusion and conflict. Encourage your employees to take part in debate and discussions but to steer clear of arguments. Whether they are talking about your brand or not it’s best to not to post anything emotional. Wait a day and consider it again.

5. Make sure employees know the best route for their opinions

Many businesses find that their employees use social media to raise issues, concerns or opinions about their employer. This is usually because they don’t know the best way of having their voice heard. Part of your social media strategy should be a clarification of the different routes available for them to have their voice heard. Some things are best aired in social media, and some things will be dealt with a lot quicker and a lot better if you raise them in other ways.

3. Growth of a healthy online community

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Sun CatcherImage by ecstaticist via Flickr

What constitutes a healthy community?

This is a big question. A really big question.

In short (although we’ll deal with the long version too), it depends on what you (or your client) wants the online community to be doing, how the community feel about that, how much churn and spam there is, how the numbers reflect the KPIs set and how ‘happy’ the membership is.

When we say ‘happy’, it’s important to say that we mean happy as members of the community (happy that they are safe, respected and encouraged) rather than happy as people, even the best community manager in the world can’t enforce that!

Perhaps it’s easier to look at what constitutes an ‘unhealthy’ community? Here’s what my vision of an ill, ailing community looks like:

  • Members’ questions and opening posts go unanswered, by both other members and the community manager
  • There is a visibly high amount thinly veiled spam (a loosely connect reply to a post that is stuffed with links) and a splattering of out-and-out ‘buy these diet pills now’ spamola
  • Feuds and fights have escalated, crowding out genuine discussion; with even mild-mannered members turning decidedly Lord of the Flies
  • People are leaving, loudly
  • The original purpose, theme or appeal is unclear, or lost, and the community is in the throes of a panic-stricken identity crisis
  • OR worst of all, it’s totally and utterly barren

Notice at no point did I mention quantities, traffic or ratios of active users.

Sure, your online community should have KPIs but one person’s page view target is another’s irrelevant number. The number of members a broad-interest lifestyle community has will - and should - differ from a special-interest, academic knowledge-sharing community.

That’s why it’s very important to work out - right at the very beginning of the planning stage, ideally before - why you want to launch a community and how you hope people will use it.

There is solid value in having numerical targets and understanding how many members need to be engaging to keep momentum, but there is no definitive ideal traffic goal any more than there is one topic area for all communities to be built around.

Tara Hunt, author of The Whuffie Factor, has a lovely bite-sized definition:

The health of a community is the gauge of where various qualitative and quantitative metrics lie in relation to the goals you set.

How to encourage engagement

It’s all very well promoting the community in all the right places and sweet-talking potential members into joining, but the real challenge (and the real trick) is making sure that they engage once they’re there.

Think open questions, talking points

If you want to get a conversation flowing, don’t ask “do you wish you were 21 again?” because the answers are all likely to be “yes!”.

Instead, ask, “if you could talk to your 21-year-old self, what advice would you give?” or “If you were 21 again, what would you do differently?”. The answers will be varied; they’ll contain talking points that will lead to more questions and more talking points.

Keep it simple

You don’t need to think up dazzling forum talking points that will show everyone how clever and well-read you are. In fact, the chances are this would frighten off all but the biggest show-offs. Keep it simple. Ask questions or start conversations that you would ask your friends over a drink, or like to know people’s thoughts on at a dinner party.

There’s more to engagement than posts

Don’t be led down the path of thinking posts are all that count. Sure, having a healthy number of bloggers and posters is fantastic, but there’s more to engagement than this. Have members rate each others’ posts, upload photos, comment on blogs or even respond to images with images.

Trust your own interests

Unless you know it’s a complete diversion from the interests of your community, start conversations and write blogs about topics that interest you. You won’t be the only one interested and because you’re speaking from your own experience, it will come across as far more authentic. Community managers are allowed to be real people too, your members will appreciate it.

Careful with current affairs

Legal matters are a whole other guide and there are many books on media law available if you want to brush up. But remember these top level rules:

  • Don’t play with fire. Reporting restrictions of current court cases or investigations includes message boards, blogs and forums. Do not encourage debate around ongoing court cases, except with extreme care, because once you have pulled the tiger’s tail, it’s very hard to get it to stop the tiger typing when it crosses a legal line.
  • Defamation laws still apply to community platforms. If a newspaper prints a story saying a named known celebrity is a love rat, and it’s untrue, they are subject to the same laws as if a blogger on your site claims that their named neighbour is cheating on his wife.
  • Naming and shaming. It is not acceptable for any community members to talk about a named person (that they know or do not know) and tell untruths, or give away that person’s private information.
  • Clamp down on risky behaviour. You are giving your members a platform to communicate, to chat and to engage. They do not need (and should not want) to give out their personal email addresses and mobile phone numbers. Perhaps they just don’t realise how open communities are, perhaps it’s a testament to how safe and friendly you have made your community feel. Either way, you need to give gentle but firm guidance on personal safety and personal information. Eventually your community champions will take on the baton themselves and report unsafe behaviour, and set examples of good behaviour, all by themselves.

A sobering example: In 2008, a record payout was made to a social housing firm in Sunderland after seriously defamatory comments were repeatedly posted and published on an ‘anonymous’ news and discussion site, called DadsPlace (sic). Eventually, the owners and administrators of the site were revealed through detailed investigation and they were found to be responsible and made to pay £100,000 to the victim of the defamation.

Online communities aren’t places to allow dubious behaviour to claim sanctuary.

More on this next week in the ‘Moderation and safety’ section of our Community Management series

Read all our posts on Promoting Community Management

Social media in retail – monetising and building value

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337/365: The Big MoneyImage by DavidDMuir via Flickr

Last week we ran the first event as part of our Social Media Training series - focused on the retail industry and attracting speakers including James from ASOS, Joanne Jacobs and our own Helen. The session was focused particularly on what those in retail could and should be doing in the current economic climate to use social media to help them build advocacy, innovate, gain insights from consumers and involve them in the business.

There are some great case studies of social media being used well in retail (and we’ve given some examples of online communities in the retail industry before) but, as with other industries, also cases of social media and online communities not living up to their promise. The session showed what works when you engage people online, a case study of how ASOS have built and launched their new community ASOS Life and a great presentation from Joanne Jacobs on how to build and monetise online communities.

FreshNetworks presentation: Case studies in social networks monetisation
View more presentations from joannejacobs.

The presentations provoked plenty of discussion and reaction. We’re running more events in our Social Media Training seminar series, if you’re interested in finding out more, coming along or even speaking then do let us know.

Social Media in Retail – A FreshNetworks Training Seminar

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Image via CrunchBase

We all know that social media is all about sharing. We talk about collaborating and learning from each other all the time on this blog. But we’re more than just big talkers here at FreshNetworks – we like to put our money where our mouth is. So without further ado, allow me to announce the FreshNetworks Social Media Training Series.

This set of half-day seminars over the course of the year will focus on social media education and practical training. Each session will delve into a particular sector, focusing on the ways that social media can be used for marketing and insight through case studies and discussion. We’ll have speakers from brands who’ve used social media to tell their success stories and dispense useful tips and lessons learned along the way. And most importantly we’ll provide a forum for all of our guests to chat, share thoughts and ask those burning social media questions.

The first seminar is less than 2 weeks away and will focus on the retail sector. With James Hart of Asos.com speaking about the brilliant new online community Asos Life, and Joanne Jacobs of Xenial (creators of gurgle.com) helping us all understand the monetization of social media, we think it’s going to be a really informative and engaging event. Interested in attending? Sign up on our FreshNetworks Retail 2.0 event page. But hurry, places are filling up quickly!

Sign up for the event here

  • Big Brands in Social Media: Ford and Southwest Airlines (futurelab.net)
  • An Online Community Packing An ROI Punch (socialmediatoday.com)
  • Social Media Marketing (sociallyminded.co.uk)
  • Lack of knowledge hampers social media marketing. Let us help. (freshnetworks.com)
  • 4 Tips to Successful Strategy in Social Media (kylelacy.com)