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With more and more companies flocking to Twitter, Facebook and the rest, brands that want to take social media seriously and start getting wider internal involvement should consider putting together some social media guidelines. 

This will ensure you get the most out of your social media efforts by giving employees the freedom to really get stuck in.

GuideThe use of the word ‘guidelines’ is apt for this sort of document. By definition, social media isn’t something that works well with strict rules and regulations.

However, it would be foolish for a company with responsibilities to investors, a board or even a stock market, to take an ‘anything goes’ approach to social media. This corporate protection element is important.

So guidelines should be put in place to protect the company, but also to nurture involvement. For many companies, especially if the driver for social media adoption has been top-down, getting grass-roots participation can be a challenge.

Guidelines, if put together correctly can give internal stakeholders the confidence they need to take up the social baton and run with it.

Where do I start?

Here are a series of steps and considerations that any company or marketing department should consider when putting together social media guidelines. These won’t just ensure you end up with a set of guidelines that tick all the boxes from a legal and compliance standpoint, but will ensure that whatever you put in place has buy-in from the very people you hope to get involved.

  1. Seek inspiration. You don’t need to start with a blank piece of paper. There are lots of great examples of social media guidelines out there. Read through some of them, take the bits you like and discard the bits that aren’t relevant. It’s a great way to start getting the inspiration flowing.
  2. Get feedback from everyone and anyone. Internal involvement is obviously crucial, but why not ask for external input too. Ask your partners or suppliers to take a look and, if you’re really feeling plucky, you could even blog about your guidelines or post them on a Wiki for input from the wider community.
  3. Be organic and flexible, and don’t think of the creation of social media guidelines as a one-time exercise with a set start and end point. This should be a flexible document that changes and adapts over time. During the initial drafting period, encourage as many people as possible to review and amend them so that you have a fully collaborative approach.
  4. Write them in plain English. There is nothing worse that a long document with complicated and confusing terminology, especially when it comes to social media. Keep your guidelines short and to the point, with bullet points galore! Why not consider writing them in a series of 140 character statements.
  5. Beta test them. Do you have a team of people that are already involved in social media outreach? Why not give them an early draft to try them out for a few weeks. They’ll likely find that some of the points aren’t relevant and may even think up something else to add in. Running brainstorming sessions is another great way to get feedback.
  6. Summarise. If you end up with a lot of points that you feel are all valid, consider summarising the whole document with a couple of key statements at the beginning. If your social media activists don’t get around to reading and digesting the whole document, then hopefully they’ll take these key nuggets on board.
  7. Rinse, wash, repeat. Don’t expect to get a set of guidelines that can then be written in stone and forgotten about. This is fast paced channel and things are always changing. Save the guidelines in a central, easily accessible location so that they can be easily amended and updated.

Photo credit: jurveston via Flickr.

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Published 5 August, 2010 by Danny Whatmough

Danny Whatmough is Head of Digital, EMEA Consumer at Weber Shandwick. He can be found on TwitterGoogle+  and blogs at dannywhatmough.com.

21 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Michael Van Osch

I would add defining internal guidelines as to Who in the organization has responsibility for what.

You guys provide some of the best blogs on the net. Will continue to send to my followers. Thanks.

cheers, Michael

about 6 years ago

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Marcie Hill

This is great.  I will definitely consider these as I help clients enter the social media world.

about 6 years ago

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Phil Goodman

These steps to do social media sucessfully are all well taken, however, The one major thing that is missing is everything that you put on your fan pages should be geared for the different generations that you are trying to reach for your business. You can't use demographics alone for social media and be successful. You need to use Genergraphics. Let's say that your customer base are people 25 to 54 years old, that represents 3 different generations all with different mindsets. You need to separate your messages to  all of them and update them all the time for each product or service that you are trying to sell.

Here are the actual birth years of the 3 generations that are in this demographic age group of 25 to 54.

Boomers: 1946-1964

Gen-Xers  1965-1976

Gen-Y       1977-1994

about 6 years ago

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Gena Icazbalceta

I like the simplicity of this article. 

Just as any new project, the first thing is to have it clear in your mind, which I have experienced can only be achived by writing it and getting constant feedback, specially in such dynamic tendencies.

about 6 years ago

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Melanie

I used IBM's Social Media Policy (referenced in the link) as a guideline to write one for the museum I was working at - BEFORE we allowed anyone to even tweet. Guidelines need to be set from the get-go.

about 6 years ago

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Danny Whatmough, Associate social media and digital director at Ketchum

Thanks for all the comments guys

about 6 years ago

Walter Adamson

Walter Adamson, CEO at NewLeaseG2M

I have a different view. Nothing wrong with the nice article, but this area is stacked with BS and people paying good money for nothing. Unless you're the Government you don't want to be wasting your money with social media policy consultants and committees and months of reviews.

@melanie touched on my advice, which is 

1. Get IBMs or another sensible LARGE company's guidelines, pick the shortest one possible (Google "Telstra" for instance).

2. Ask the people who need to be involved in your company three simple questions:

2a. Are we bigger than this company (from where the guidelines came) and do we need something more complicated? The answer is "no" by the way!

2b. Is there anything in here which is not covered by our current HR Policies, and if so can we amend the current employee guidelines / HR Policy? The answer is most likely "yes" we can amend our current guidelines.

2c. Are we confident that these guidelines will and can be made to work within our culture/organisation? If the answer is not "yes" then set to fixing whatever it is that needs fixing.

That's it. They don't have to be perfect, far from it, and you'll change bits later when you see how things develop.

If you're sweating over SM Policy then you are a bureaucracy, no matter how large or small your business. And you don't need to pay consultants. Believe me, I'm one.

Walter Adamson @g2m

http://xeesm.com/walter

about 6 years ago

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Troy Stewart

Great article. I find a lot of companies have no policy and wonder why their pages are not drawing people. Then you ask to see their plan and they either have one, or it is way too complex.

over 5 years ago

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