Social Media Policy: Worth the Paper?

There’s nothing like the thought of allowing geographically-dispersed staff to run their own project social media feeds to send shivers down the spines of any communications department.

Aside from practical training in usage there’s little left in our arsenal than the social media guidelines or corporate policy to protect us from potential disaster. But how useful is it?

As with most policies, it’s often argued that guidelines are merely there to “cover the backs” of employers and organisations. As long as you’ve read and signed it, you can’t sue them if they sack you when you fluff up. On the other hand, if written well, they can be quite useful in at least directing staff in the right direction and alerting them to the most common of errors.

I’m currently looking at a draft of social media guidelines for the second time in my career and it’s still a headache. But what non-comms staff lack in specific communications knowledge, they more than make up for in on-the-ground information, client case studies and just general personality of the brand that many of us lose the longer we’ve been removed from “the front line.”

So it’s a risk worth taking. And at least we have plenty of disasters to learn from. Like when HMV laid off employees earlier this year, leaving one (the Community Manager) in charge of the corporate Twitter account. Followers got a blow-by-blow account of the mass re-structuring through tweets like “We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!” In just 20 minutes HMV’s followers leapt from 61,500 to 73,350.

Stories like this make me sweat. Profusely. But they also make us wiser as we navigate what is still a relatively new issue.

For every corporate crisis, however, there’s a corporate over-reaction. The saddest being Charmin toilet roll’s recent removal of their Thor inspired tweet (thanks to @PRNewser):

Charmin Thor Tweet

In PR terms, as well as movie-fan terms, it was a blinder!

It’s understandable that the amount of online brand-blunders have made comms folk nervous of using humour, innuendo, or relevant topics of discussion that verge on edgy. Despite a few feedback comments about “going too far”, the issue that lead to the tweet’s removal was most likely a Copyright one, but the fact remains.

If we assume too much control over our digital content feeds we’ll lose what makes them appeal to people – the fact that they’re managed by humans. Humans who are empathetic, funny and sometimes a little rude.

But as with face-to-face conversation, as long as we use our common sense and apologise for our gaffs, what’s the worst that could happen…?

I may live to regret that question.