4 Ways to Clarify Your Social Media Policy

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Crafting social media guidelines is a growing  responsibility for PR executives.

As social media has seeped into virtually every aspect of business communications, PR pros are on the hook to explain what is (and isn’t) fair game when it comes to employees’ use of social channels during office hours.

Some brands and organizations continue to ban the use of social media during the workday. But that policy may be getting untenable, what with more and more people using social channels as their main Web platform and so-called “enterprise social networks” starting to proliferate at a rapid clip.

Last month, for example, Facebook rolled out Facebook At Work, which is essentially Facebook for the workplace and is designed to connect business colleagues who may or may not be friends.

How long before social media becomes a way of life at work, as it has for many people when they’re not on the clock? That could lend itself to a lot of interpretation among employees. PR executives can help to clarify things, and enhance their value in the process.

With that in mind, here are a few tips on how to make sure your company’s social media guidelines are clear (and can be clearly communicated), with a hat tip to Cayce Myers, assistant professor, department of communication at Virginia Tech.

> Avoid jargon. Writing a good social media policy requires clarity. However, sometimes organizations attempt to provide clarity by using specific terms that are unknown to their employees. Jargon and complex syntax should be removed in favor of short, simple rules.

> Provide concrete examples. Sometimes a rule or policy doesn’t make sense unless it’s placed in context. Providing hypothetical examples of specific rules may give clarity to the reader.

> Structure the policy to be readable. Having a policy that has multiple paragraphs and subparagraphs reduces readability. Hidden clauses and fine print are signs of a policy that may be in violation of federal law. Do not write a policy that makes the reader refer back to previous statements or headings.

> Avoid catchall phrases. Sometimes an organization wants to make sure it has covered every conceivable scenario in a policy. This is impossible and confusing to readers. Catchall phrases and overly broad language contributes to vagueness.

What other tips would you add to the list?

Learn more about how to improve employee relations from PR News’ Book of Employee Communications Strategies & Tactics.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1


  • Nikki Van Dusen

    I agree with all your advice, except the part about calling it a policy. In my experience, most workplaces have enough rules around employee conduct that existing policies only need to be contextualized for social media. So, yes: avoid jargon, give concrete examples, structure the information to be readable, but don’t make a new policy; use existing employee communication and education vehicles to help them understand old policies in a new context.

    Here’s my concrete example: An existing harassment policy dictates employees can’t harass colleagues. The workplaces doesn’t also need a social media policy telling employees to not harass colleagues on social media. You just need to say, “Hey, employees! Just as our harassment policy says that you’re not allowed to be dicks to each other in real life, same goes on this newfangled ‘Facebook at Work’ thingie.”