Whether one considers social media strategy to be part of wider marketing efforts or put it under a general communication strategy, buy questions about access and representation of a company and brand should always be asked. There aren’t only questions that deal with reputation management but also with maintaining a balance between freedom of speech and expression employees active on social media and company/brand representation through said employees. A social media policy could help clarify some of these boundaries. This is why everyone – whether a big company, this or a startup, population health a university or just a lecturer deciding online with his/her course – should consider the level of data sharing and involvement they want from social media as well as the implications of their actions.
Kate Smith’s post “Social media: Marketing tool or legal nightmare” puts a legal perspective to social media policy. A solicitor with UK-based law firm Shoosmiths, Smith brings attention to some of the hot areas of social media activity: trademark infringement, confidentiality, defamation and data protection.
While all of these can be tracked online via active monitoring – and there are plenty of sites and applications like Google Alerts, SocialMention, Engagor, HowSociable or TweetDeck – when the worst happens it is the policy than can at first provide a direction and solution towards dealing with such issues. In this respect, Smith’s advice is very sound: have a policy, train staff and monitor. Unfortunately, her posts provides little advice in what a policy should be like and it here where I feel that I could perhaps add my own take on this matter.
A policy should reflect the company and its online communication/marketing objectives and goals whether to connect (engagement, awareness, reputation), amplify (sales support, fundraising) or collect feedback (customer service). A policy should also reflect the relationship between these goals and the role employees play in reaching them. Also a policy needs to touch on ownership of social media accounts, escalation and consequences. This is why using automated policy generators such as Social Media Policy Generator or Policy Tool for Social Media as a means to explore such areas is a good idea. Whatever policy they would generate should then be discussed within the company and preferably should involve more than just the marketing or legal departments. A policy with which most employees are comfortable is an enforced and hence more powerful policy. Moreover, a policy that is revisited and updated to reflect changes both in the social media landscape as well as in the company’s adoption of new social media outlets, makes is stronger policy. But a policy can only support good practice but not force it. Similarly, a policy cannot control what other say about a company but will definitely help keeping “cool” when things get hot.
The same principles apply for higher education. Going online means providing an outlet for discussion that is beyond university rules and that reaches more than the local university audience. When embarking on this route – such as having students blog, holding office hours on Facebook or providing feedback to students on Twitter – it is the students’ privacy and data protection that needs to be made a priority.
So the matter of comfort comes into the spotlight again. Boundaries need to be tested and students, like organizations, need support on this route. Social media literacy is as important in academia as is in business environments. Policy seen as a legal output or simply as set of rules put together to make one’s online journey manageable linked with training linked with clear objectives could make a successful online experience.
After all, as Smith said it so well “the internet encourages anonymity and you cannot stop people from speaking their minds. Although vigilance is crucial, when it comes to social media sometimes you may have to accept the good with the bad.” And it just needs practice.